Activists and a City Council member say they’ve heard claims of possible obstruction in the investigation into alleged racism and homophobia among the highest ranks of the Austin Police Department.
"It seems that people are not able to wholeheartedly and openly and honestly talk about some of the issues regarding racism within the police department,” Chas Moore, founder of the Austin Justice Coalition, said at a news conference Tuesday. “It seems to us that the people who are speaking out are being retaliated against administratively or just by their peers for some of the same things that they’re calling out in the police department."
Moore said the officers who reached out to him are officers of color and members of the LGBTQ community and that they couldn't be more specific because the investigation is ongoing. Police Chief Brian Manley did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, the department said it could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
In October, the Office of Police Oversight received two complaints alleging former Assistant Chief Justin Newsom used a racist term for black people on multiple occasions, including to describe a former City Council member and a former assistant police chief. Newsom abruptly resigned last year after 23 years with the department.
A second complaint accused Assistant Chief Troy Gay of having his son undergo gay conversion therapy, a widely disproved practice that attempts to alter someone's sexual orientation.
City Manager Spencer Cronk announced a week later he had hired a lawyer from outside the city to investigate the claims.
“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,” he wrote in an email at the time.
The results of this investigation were expected by next week, but in an email to the mayor and council members Tuesday, Cronk said it would likely not be completed until February. He said he was concerned by allegations of retaliation.
“It is my expectation that people can speak out about any issue within our city government, and can do so without fear of retaliation,” he wrote.
The fact that accusations had been leveled against two of Austin’s highest-ranking officers forced some city leaders to question how pervasive racism and bigotry are in the department. In December, council members voted unanimously to begin a second, more wide-reaching review of racism and bigotry in APD, including an audit of officers’ social media posts – but this will not begin until the first, more narrow, investigation concludes.
Moore on Tuesday urged members of the police department to continue to talk with investigators.
“Please continue to have the courage and the fortitude to do so,” he said, hitting his fist on the podium in the City Hall pressroom. “We cannot heal unless we’re going to be open and honest about the issues that’re going on within our department and within our city.”
Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, said that if what officers are telling investigators is so allegedly damaging that it causes them to feel they're being retaliated against then it confirms her belief that a broader review is crucial.
“If even before we’ve received the results of the preliminary investigation it’s being implied that there are people that are so concerned [about] what will be uncovered ... tells me everything I need to know about forging ahead and the importance of the broader investigation,” she said. “We have to root racism out of the Austin Police Department. There’s no way around that.”