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Austin Police Officer Fired Over Racist Texts

The Austin Police Department headquarters as seen from under the I-35 overpass at Eighth Street.
Julia Reihs
/
KUT

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley has indefinitely suspended – in other words, fired – an officer because of racist texts he sent back in March.

Officer Daniel Castelline, who has worked for APD since 2017, sent several text messages as part of a group conversation that included two former officers. The text thread, as laid out in a memo Manley sent Nov. 5, includes offensive language:

Officer Castelline: We’re definitely getting corona. And it’ll be that bastard phuc pham.

Former Officer 1: Lol Yup! He’s the one that actually started it

Former Officer 2: Hmm Racist much??

Former Officer 1: No just being truthful

Former Officer 2: Kind of afraid of catching the corona. A Lot of Slants over here.

About a week later, according to the memo, Castelline sent another text to the group, this time with a meme showing an African-American man who looked like a hospital patient in response to a department announcement that detectives would be pulled to work patrol.

The text messages, which were discovered during a criminal investigation by APD and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, were turned over to APD’s Internal Affairs. The department investigated and determined Castelline had violated policy. Manley indefinitely suspended him effective Nov. 5.

The firing came just a week before Austin City Council members approved a $1.3 million contract with a New York City-based consultant to investigate racism and bigotry in the police department. The city had received anonymous complaints that a former assistant police chief used a derogatory word for Black people.

In his memo, Manley wrote that Castelline’s inability to own up to what he’d written in the text messages was “troublesome.”

“A strong theme of Officer Castelline’s interview was the acceptance of little responsibility. … Calling Mr. Pham a ‘bastard,’ whether it be to his face or behind his back, is unacceptable behavior and shows a complete disregard for the impartial behavior and courtesy that APD officers are required and expected to show to all persons.”

Castelline allegedly told investigators that Phuoc Pham was a homeless man whom cops frequently interacted with and that if they were to catch COVID-19 it would be likely be from him.

He also told Manley he didn’t think he had violated department policy because he sent the text messages while off-duty, an assumption Manley called “incorrect” in his memo.

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