AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two Austin police officers seen on video blocking an activist from recording a traffic stop went against department policy, Police Chief Art Acevedo says.
One of the officers, who Acevedo told a news conference has a “dismissive attitude” towards policy, has been removed from patrol duties for the time being. Both are the subject of internal investigations. Each is in their early 30s and has less than five years with APD, city records show. KXAN has requested personnel files for the officers.
“We will not tolerate our officers being dismissive of policy… If you’re a police officer and you’re diligent… and you wrap yourself with policy, it really is a shield. It’s ultimately there to protect the community we serve. When someone shows a dismissive attitude as regards to policy we’re probably going to take a pretty harsh look at that individual.”
Acevedo said he would not comment on the specifics of what’s seen in the video posted to YouTube by activist Phillip Turner, but said one officer’s actions were more “egregious” than the other. “It’s self-inflicted stupidity as far as I’m concerned,” Acevedo said of the officers’ actions.
The police chief also said that, unlike “anarchist” groups in Austin, Turner records officers in a respectful way and does not interfere with police activity. “[Turner] talks about how he believes most officers are good people, but he is of the strong belief that it is important to videotape officers to keep them honest.”
The approximately 30-minute-long edited video shows an officer pointing a flashlight at Turner’s camera during what appears to be a traffic stop nearby. Another officer joins and both point flashlights at his camera at one point, eventually asking him to not cross a line they deemed too close to their ongoing investigation. Turner’s car was on the other side of that line, he told them.
“I will tell you that I’ve had police officers come up to me in our department, they’ve seen the video and they’re not happy about it,” the chief continued.
APD’s policy on how police interact with community members who wish to videotape their actions appears to be clear. While it allows the public to record or photograph police, the public (including professional journalists) must remain behind police lines. What officers cannot do is block someone’s camera or ask why they are videotaping.
Acevedo explained the policy that allows citizens to record police exists to be transparent and build bridges in the community.
“This is a free county. We are a department that believes in transparency,” said Acevedo. “Mistrust of the government is extremely high… The way we build trust with the community is through transparency and engagement.”
In October, two APD supervisors were suspended and demoted after a YouTube video showed an officer pepper spraying a handcuffed man during South by Southwest.
Turner’s other civil suits
KXAN discovered three lawsuits Turner filed in the last two years against police departments in Round Rock, Ft. Worth and Austin. All have to do with officers’ response after he was asked why he was outside police departments with a video camera.
In May, Turner won a partial victory from a federal judge who ruled Round Rock officers violated freedom of speech and illegal seizure tenants after they questioned, handcuffed and detained the 27 year old for videotaping outside the city’s police station in July 2014. The ruling denied an excessive force claim.
That suit showed he told police he was “videotaping the vegetation” in the area at the time.
Turner brought a third suit after being detained and searched outside APD’s north substation. The suit shows he was recording the rear parking area of the station from a property next door. Austin PD has not formally responded to the action filed Oct 11, according to court records. Chief Acevedo says he expects the city to be victorious in the action.
“Mr. Turner looks through things through his own prism. Let’s not compare apples and oranges. The officers did what we expect them to do in that situation,” Acevedo said Monday.
Video of the incident