Austin moved a step closer on Monday to naming Brian Manley its chief of police. Austin city manager Spencer Cronk told the Austin American-Statesman that Manley, who has served as interim chief of police since former Austin police chief Art Acevedo left for Houston in November 2016, will be named the lone finalist in the city’s search for a permanent replacement.
This move was a long time coming. There were no other obvious candidates, and Manley solidified his top-candidate status in March by nabbing the Austin Bomber, who had killed two people—17-year-old Draylen Mason and 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House—and injured four more in a spate of explosions across Austin and in Schertz, outside San Antonio. The serial package bombings left the city of Austin nearly paralyzed with fear, beginning on March 2 with House’s death and ending March 21, when the bomber, Mark Conditt, blew himself up during a police chase.
Manley was widely praised for leading the multi-agency effort to catch the bomber and tirelessly working to crack a case that seemed to have stumped investigators. There were calls to remove Manley’s interim status immediately following Conditt’s death. “Just seeing Chief Manley once again exhibit such amazing professionalism, amazing concern and care for our community, his amazing humility in these situations, we need to make chief Manley our police chief,” City Council member Delia Garza said hours after the bomber was caught, according to KUT. He gained some higher-profile supporters, too, including Acevedo and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican representing Austin, who have both said they believe Manley should be hired as police chief.
But Manley also faced some major criticisms of his handling of the bombings. After House’s death, the police department publicly suggested House may have accidentally blown himself up, and assured the city that there was no lingering threat. “When it first happened, we didn’t feel like police were taking our family seriously,” House’s brother, Norrell Waynewood, told the Daily Beast last month. After it became apparent that House’s death was only the first of a string of connected bombings, Manley owned up to his department’s mistakes, and apologized directly to House’s family. “I apologize the department put that out there because that was not appropriate,” he said at a forum hosted by the Austin Justice Coalition and Black Lives Matter Austin in mid-March, according to the Texas Tribune. “It may have been something that needed to have been evaluated, but it’s not something that needed to be said publicly.”
There was a second snafu, when Manley said in a press conference after Conditt’s capture that his serial bombings and recorded video confession were “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.” Manley received backlash for his comments, as some people felt Conditt, who is white, was being treated more sympathetically than a minority suspect would have been treated. He again apologized, and clarified his comments, calling Conditt a domestic terrorist. “In a press conference I held announcing the conclusion of the case, I used a word to describe him that I understand was very concerning to members of this community,” Manley said, according to KVUE. “I did not use that word in an attempt to minimize what he had done or as an attempt to justify what he had done. I was just describing what I heard him state on the tape. I understand that was a comment that was hurtful to parts of our community and I have apologized for that.”
Cronk said at a press conference Monday that the city would be seeking public input before making a final decision on Manley’s future. According to the Statesman, Cronk is seeking the community’s response to three central questions: What are key characteristics most important in a chief? What are the challenges facing the city now? And what will be the pressing issues facing the city over the next five years? People can submit their comments by text, phone, or online using the city’s 311 app.