1-on-1 with AISD’s top cop on how department handled sex assault cases

Austin ISD Chief of Police Eric Mendez addressing sexual assault allegations. (KXAN Photo)
Austin ISD Chief of Police Eric Mendez addressing sexual assault allegations. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Austin Independent School District police department comes under scrutiny for how they handled an sexual assault allegation involving a Pre-K student at Boone Elementary School, Chief of Police Eric Mendez sits down with KXAN’s Sally Hernandez to talk about why he still believes his department went through all the necessary steps before the case was deemed “closed.”

KXAN: Chief you called us because you wanted to clear up some issues. What exactly do you want to clear up that hasn’t been put out there?

Mendez: So with the initial [media reports] I was making an attempt to be very transparent, as I always do every time there is an investigation involving an incident at the school district and I’ve always worked diligently to work with our local media partners to make sure we are transparent and everyone is aware of the information. It was after I provided the information, we went and looked at everything we did in the case.

We determined, I found — we found — the department found, that in fact we indeed did have the medical records reviewed. While we didn’t pick up the records as a technical aspect of the case to have them in the case file, the medical expert assigned to the case through the Center for Child Protection and as part of the child protection team did in fact review all of the medical records, including the records that we did not pick up.

So they were all reviewed and an opinion was formed by the medical professional, we the police don’t review and analyze medical records, we are not experts and we are not doctors. We rely on those members of the child protection team to provide their input to tell us what we have or don’t have.

So the media report that came out led everyone to believe that because we didn’t pick them up they weren’t reviewed and in fact what happened was they were reviewed — all the medical documents were reviewed. They just weren’t picked up and placed in our case file as a technical aspect and we’ve corrected that, we’ve done the subpoena for the record so they can be part of the case file but during the initial investigation those records were reviewed by the medical professional that is assigned to do that as part of child abuse cases.

KXAN: So the medical records were reviewed?

Mendez: Yes.

KXAN: But you still came to the conclusion you were going to close the investigation?

Mendez: As part of the initial investigation that is correct. We rely on the medical professional to tell us what we have as it relates to the investigation. We can’t come up with that assumption on our own. We are not medical experts.

KXAN: The expert in child abuse told you there was no evidence in sexual assault or how did you come to the conclusion to close the case then?

Mendez: I want to be careful with what I say because the case has been reopened. So we want to make sure we don’t do anything to sway the decision by anyone else that is investigating the case again. What I will say is the medical professional provides us their information and based on their information we determine if we close the case.

KXAN: But do you have confidence in your officers who took that information at the time and said case closed?

Mendez: Yes, I have confidence in the detectives who took the case at the time to ensure everything is reviewed, all the information is there and that we have footing for that investigation.

KXAN: Then why reopen it?

Mendez: We reopened it because of the questions that have come up. Everyone is concerned about how the investigation was done and in order to provide information and put everyone at ease, we are going to double check. So I put new detectives on the case, a fresh set of eyes, the DA’s office is also involved in this. We are going to use a doctor from another area that has credentials in child abuse to look at the medical records to see if we come up with the same conclusion.

KXAN: What happened in this case with the district attorney? Did they review the file and not see the medical records and not go forward with charges? Where is the disconnect?

Mendez: Their is a disconnect on the staffing and I, along with other members, with the command staff have had several members with district attorney’s staff over child abuse. There is a disconnect on the formal staffing of the case and we are working through that process.

Staffing is a process that happens when the detective takes the case, meets with the prosecutor in charge of the child abuse cases and covers the facts of the case. The DA’s office says they have no record of a staffing taking place. So we have no record of a meeting. My detective says he did meet with the DA’s office, inform the DA’s office and the prosecutor about the case, so, there’s miscommunication there on what exactly happened.

Right now, what’s important is handling the case itself — getting through the investigation, ensuring we’ve covered all our bases, ensuring that we take care of our child, ensuring that they have the proper services they need and that the family is confident we’ve done the investigation that needs to be done. And we cover all our bases for the investigation — not to cover us — to cover the investigation. I want to make sure that we’ve done everything we need for this child and the allegation that was made.

Once we’re done with that, I’ll then focus on the internal aspect of what happens within our department. What happened with the case from our processes and what happened with us and the DA’s office to determine whether or not we took care of the actual case.

KXAN: When you’re finding out this information, are you thinking what else could’ve happened in other investigations involving sexual assault. Will you have to look back at those accusations?

Mendez: We had one parent ask us to re-look at their case and we didn’t reopen the investigation, we are doing an active review of that case. I feel confident saying this today that as we look at everything in that case, we didn’t miss anything. we even have security footage to corroborate that the incident did not occur. [KXAN spoke with the mother of the child in this particular case]

I’m passionate about this district, I’m passionate about the work that we do, I’m very passionate about how we protect our youth. So when this story came out. It was devastating to me because I just couldn’t fathom that we would miss something so important so when I go back and look at everything, I find out we didn’t miss it. It was reviewed, the medical records were reviewed, all the documents were reviewed. The medical professional, we probably had four or five conversations with this individual…we didn’t pick up paper work, it sounds bad but we didn’t miss a step.

KXAN: This has obviously touched you as dad, I can tell. Can you tell me a little about that?

Mendez: You know, as a parent, I want things right for my children. I consider this department my family, I’ve been here 18 years. I want people to understand: I don’t let things go. I don’t just brush things aside. I want us to be sure and confident in the work that we do. I don’t want us to make mistakes.

KXAN: This is a parent’s worst nightmare to get that kind of allegation.

Mendez: It is and I can understand where the parent is coming from and I can understand that the parent has lost confidence in us, but I want all parents to understand we don’t shortcut things here in this department. We work hard to ensure we cover everything.

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