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Investigator Chosen To Examine Claims Of Racism Against Former Austin Assistant Police Chief

Julia Reihs
Justin Newsom speaks with Tanya Bullman and James McPherson earlier this year about their experiences being homeless under the I-35 overpass at 8th Street. Newsom resigned abruptly in October.

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk announced Friday the city has hired a Texas attorney to investigate allegations of racism made against a former higher-up at the Austin Police Department.

Lisa Tatum will investigate allegations of racism among the executive staff of the Austin Police Department. Last week, complaints that former APD Assistant Chief Justin Newsom frequently used a racist term for black people, including to describe a former city council member and a former chief at APD, were made public. The City has not said what the investigation will cost or how long it is expected to take.

Newsom, who headed up enforcement in Austin’s downtown and was particularly visible during city discussions about homelessness, abruptly resigned at the end of last month after nearly two decades with the department.

“It is critical that we bring the facts about these allegations to light and promptly address the results as we find them,” said Cronk in an emailed statement about Tatum’s appointment. “Our entire community must have trust and confidence in our Police Department, and I believe this investigation will be an important step in maintaining and strengthening that trust.”

Tatum formerly worked in Bexar County as an Assistant Criminal District Attorney and then as outside counsel for the San Antonio Housing Authority. She is also being asked to investigate claims from the police union that Austin Police Chief Brian Manley holds those in the department’s lower ranks to a higher standard than those in the higher, executive branch.

“[I]t appears that the department, led by Chief Manley, investigates and disciplines lower ranking officers differently than officers of higher rank or those in the ‘circle of trust,’" wrote Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday in a letter to the union’s members.

According to a complaint filed with the Office of Police Oversight, Newsom came to Manley to tell him someone had evidence of him using a racist term in text messages. Manley has not responded to a request from KUT to comment.

Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said at a press conference last week that she was considering additional policies to look into racism in the police department. While she did not go into specifics, she signaled that she was interested in an audit of police officer’s use of social media.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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