AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two Austin police downtown supervisors were suspended and demoted Monday over their review of the South by Southwest pepper spraying incident.
Police Lt. Allen Hicks and Sgt. Scott Stanfield were suspended by Chief Acevedo after they failed to complete a review of the incident in which officer Cameron Caldwell pepper sprayed a handcuffed prisoner in the face on March 17 during SXSW.
Cameron was suspended for 45 days in August after Chief Acevedo called his use of pepper spray “not objectively reasonable,” saying Caldwell had “lesser means” of controlling the man. He remains on a year-long probation.
The disciplinary memo for Hicks states that there were similar incidents that he failed to perform reviews on as a commander. He was suspended for 45 days and demoted in rank to the position of Corporal/Detective, effective Saturday.
Similarly, Stanfield’s disciplinary memo states that he failed to perform tasks, thoroughly document, completely review and implement corrective measures of his subordinates. His suspension will last 30 days, through Nov. 20. He has also been demoted to the rank of Corporal/Detective, which took effect Saturday.
“We ended up doing a review of many months on these two individuals, of how they handled their use of force reviews for a 4-5 month period, and unfortunately we identified several other cases where the reviews were not done appropriately or to policy,” Chief of Staff for the Austin Police Department, Brian Manley said.
He explains the reason for the action taken is simple, they want to hold the two accountable for not following the rules. Ken Casaday, the Austin Police Association president, says he agrees with accountability, but says this time, this punishment went too far.
“I really believe [Chief Acevedo] took his anger out on these officers and way over extended the discipline that he would normally give,” Casaday said.
According to police, it’s the first time in more than 10 years a lieutenant is demoted within the department. Casaday says recent suspensions within the department have caused low moral and even fear from officers.
“The officers in this department do not trust their chief, and they do not trust their chains of command to do the right thing when they have to use force, so how do they get around that? They just try not to use force,” Casaday says. “I can tell you, officers are trying to avoid using force at all costs right now, because they just don’t want to end up in front of the chief, being fired.”
Command staff says not getting fired is simple. “You know our officers shouldn’t walk on eggshells, and they shouldn’t fear of being fired, we have a policy manual that is pretty clear in its direction,” Manley said.
Casaday argues the confusion comes with the training officers are given. He says right now officer’s only mandatory training on a regular basis is shooting, any other defense tactics must be planned around an officers work schedule and done voluntarily.
“We have great training leaving the police academy, but all those skills are perishable, all those skills stay with you for about 4-8 months and after that the go away, this department has zero continuing training,” Casaday said. “People keep harping on we need sensitivity training, we need training on deescalation, you know, if they want us to use our hands and go back to the way policing used to be, you’re going to have to provide that training.”
Now Casaday is calling on Chief Acevedo to step down. “He’s been our chief for 10 years, and if things have fallen apart and gone the direction he doesn’t want it to go, it’s no one’s fault but his,” Casaday said. “It’s coming to a point to where I think it’s best we have a new shakeup here which includes him going somewhere else.”
Those on the command staff stand by Chief Art Acevedo. “I think we’re a better department for having him as our chief,” Manley said. “We are entrusted with holding our folks accountable to policy, ensuring that we’re complying with policy and as difficult as it is, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t have to make those tough decisions.”
Neither officer will be allowed to appeal the disciplinary action taken.