Two APD officers fired for lying about using force during arrest, chief says

Austin police helicopter video showed Police Officer Brian Richter and Detective Steven McCurley during a use of force incident on July 26, 2017 that eventually led to their firings on Jan. 19, 2018. (Austin Police Department Photo)
Austin police helicopter video showed Police Officer Brian Richter and Detective Steven McCurley during a use of force incident on July 26, 2017 that eventually led to their firings on Jan. 19, 2018. (Austin Police Department Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin police officer who was the subject of a use of force lawsuit filed by a woman who he slammed into the ground during a 2015 arrest has been fired from the department after an internal investigation revealed he lied about using force on another person in July of 2017.

Chief of Police Brian Manley made the decision to fire Officer Bryan Richter after a disciplinary hearing that wrapped up Monday. According to a Jan. 19 disciplinary memo, on July 26, 2017, the Austin Police Department’s Organized Crime Division took part in an operation to arrest a person for narcotics-related offenses. When the person was taken into custody, Richter and Detective Steven McCurley “used force” while arresting the suspect.

Bryan Richter at his police graduation ceremony in 2010 (Courtesy: Stephen M. Keller)
Bryan Richter at his police graduation ceremony in 2010 (Courtesy: Stephen M. Keller)

At the time, neither Richter nor McCurley mentioned any “response to resistance” or use of force to their supervisor. On the day it happened, Richter approached his supervisor and asked, “Hey, uh, you know, since this was a planned operation do we still have to do a R2R [response to resistance report]?” When pressed for details, Richter only said he “guided him to the ground.”

However, the following day, Richter met a sergeant to give a fuller account of the arrest. The sergeant noted “inconsistent details” in Richter’s version of events. After reviewing scene video from APD’s helicopter on site, two sergeants determined Richter’s story was “not consistent with what was captured in the video.” The sergeants also determined McCurley used force during the incident, as well.

Police say the aerial video showed Richter taking down the suspect. As the male suspect was on the ground, McCurley pushed another officer to the side. The disciplinary memo states McCurley then kicked the suspect in his abdominal area while his hands were behind his back. Richter then placed his right foot on the suspect’s head, the memo continues.

As the third officer tried to secure the subject’s hands, McCurley kicked him again. Around that time, Richter jogged away toward the suspect’s vehicle, where McCurley joined him less than 30 seconds later. According to the memo, Richter and McCurley “immediately approached the subject’s unoccupied vehicle and breached the windows on the passenger side.”

With the new developments, the sergeants notified their chain of command on Aug. 1. During the Internal Affairs investigation, one sergeant said Richter “absolutely” lied to him.

In the memo, Manley says Richter’s “actions and misrepresentations have eroded the trust I and the chain of command had in him.”

Manley also decided to fire McCurley due to his actions in the July incident. According to a disciplinary memo, McCurley “made no mention of kicking the subject, particularly the ‘hardest kick,'” in his original report. In a follow-up report, McCurley wrote he “put [his] boot on top” of the subject’s hands but never mentioned he kicked the suspect.

According to the memo, the sergeant conveyed to Internal Affairs that he was not only disturbed by McCurley’s failure to initially document the incident, but he was more disturbed by his failure to accurately depict what transpired on the video.

Manley said McCurley “exhibited insubordinate behavior during” his IA interview and his “flippant response” did not conform to his expectations for the department.

Both officers have the right to appeal Manley’s ruling.

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Manley took the opportunity to discuss the department’s de-escalation policy. “One of the criteria that our supervisors will now consider when they’re reviewing that use of force to ensure it was reasonable and within policy was whether or not there were opportunities to de-escalate and if there were whether or not the officer used de-escalation tactics,” said Manley.

While Manley understands every scenario is different, this policy lets his officers know that the department doesn’t expect them to place themselves in danger.

“We think that this policy reflects the values of this police department, the values of the community and is really a best practice in policing across the country right now,” said Manley.

Richter’s History

Richter was previously at the center of a 2015 use of force incident that resulted in an ongoing lawsuit. The widely seen dash camera video of the June 2015 incident shows Breaion King being thrown to the ground by Richter following a traffic stop in southeast Austin. A Travis County grand jury decided not to indict Richter for his use of force.

In 2016, KXAN uncovered more video of Richter using force against people he arrested. Records obtained by KXAN show Richter has charged 34 people with resisting arrest (as of October 2016), more than any other APD officer in the past decade. In each of those cases, his superiors decided he did not use excessive force.

According to records reviewed by KXAN, Richter’s superiors often praised him for his work ethic and “uncanny” ability to ferret out felons. However, the reviews also show Richter led his region in “response to resistance.”

KXAN spoke with King’s attorney, Erica Grigg, Monday after news broke about Richter’s termination.

“Anytime an officer who shows violent tendencies like Officer Richter is fired, it’s a good thing. It makes the community safer and it makes the community better,” said Grigg. “I think the bigger issue we need to be talking about is why did it take so long for Officer Richter to be disciplined?”

Grigg says the takeaway is that it shouldn’t take more people getting hurt before a police officer who has violent tendencies to be disciplined and ultimately, removed from the department.

“I think it’s important that when you have a job in law enforcement — when you have a job that allows you to use force, or even use deadly force — that the accountability system when you do something wrong is strong and reliable, and I don’t know that we had that here,” the attorney added.

King initially filed a lawsuit against Richter in August 2016, but it was dismissed that October. She has since refiled the lawsuit and the case is ongoing.

City Council members discussed legal issues regarding the lawsuit against Richter this past September during an executive session.

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