For Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, the past few days have not been what one might describe as banner days. On Thursday morning, during a jaywalking enforcement exercise, a young woman near the University of Texas campus was addressed by an officer for crossing against the light while jogging. She had headphones on at the time—as many joggers do—and a witness claims that she didn’t hear the officer who called to her. Moments later, witnesses say, the officer grabbed her arm as she continued jogging. At that point, the jogger recoiled from the stranger grabbing her from behind, leading the officer to handcuff her, call over three fellow officers, and finally arrest the young woman for failure to identify herself.
The story attracted a lot of attention, for a few reasons: There’s video, taken by UT student Chris Quintero, who watched the encounter from across the street and began filming once the jogger was cuffed and on the ground; the jogger in question is a petite, blonde woman in pigtails—the cultural definition of “non-threatening”; and her reasons for failing to initially respond to the officer are believable (many joggers exercise while listening to headphones, and many people would jerk away from someone who grabbed their arm, if they didn’t know it was a police officer).
People can argue over the appropriateness of the behavior of everyone involved in the incident. Jaywalking actually is a problem near the UT campus, and the jogger, who spends much of the video screaming and crying, did not put her best face forward once she was handcuffed. The crime for which she was ultimately arrested—refusing to tell her name to the officers who had detained her—is a law for a reason (it’s hard for police to carry out their duties if they don’t know the identity of the person they’ve detained). But on the other hand, it’s four police officers hauling a screaming young woman into a police car in an incident that started because she crossed the street before the light was green.
As the story developed on Friday into local news, however, things got worse for Acevedo. As MyFoxAustin reports, he addressed the incident, and defended his officers in a curious manner:
“Whether or not he grabbed her by behind it doesn’t…it’s not relevant! At some point she knows it’s a cop! The cop asked her a lawful question that she is lawfully required to answer and she didn’t! That’s why she went to jail,” Acevedo said.
Acevedo says the woman was only arrested for failure to identify, not resisting arrest. He says if he had arrested her, he wouldn’t have been so generous.
“At the end of the day, that officer has to stop them somehow. He didn’t tackle her to the ground, you know, it’s kind of interesting what passes for controversy in Austin, Texas. Thank you Lord that there’s a controversy in Austin, Texas that we actually had the audacity to touch somebody by the arm and tell them ‘Oh my goodness, Austin Police, we’re trying to get your attention.’ Whew! In other cities, cops are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas,” Acevedo said.
The bolded sentence quickly came under scrutiny. One might guess that it was a shot at San Antonio, which fired an officer earlier this month over accusations for the very thing Acevedo describes. But what raised the ire of the public is the fact that the police chief of a major city chose to defend an incident in which four of his officers carried a screaming young woman to a police car over a minor offense by essentially saying, “At least they didn’t rape anybody.”
It’s a strange bit of logic, to say the least. It is good that there aren’t currently any pending sexual assault accusations against on-duty APD officers, to be certain, but the fact that the police chief went there when explaining how good people in Austin have it is troubling.
This isn’t the first time that Acevedo has made curious public statements, either. After the 2012 murder of 29-year-old Esme Barrera (which resulted in an outporing of grief from the community) and the subsequent suicide of James Loren Brown—the case’s primary suspect—Acevedo speculated that “the exposure in the case applied by the public and officers may have contributed to Brown’s suicide,” which was strange speculation from the police chief, given that Brown left no note.
In the case of the jogger, however, Chief Acevedo seemed to recognize that his wording wasn’t appropriate and offered an apology online:
Yesterday’s press conference related to the arrest of a jogger by members of the Austin Police Department (APD) was the culmination of an emotional week for the APD, our extended APD family and me personally.
During the press conference I attempted to place the arrest into context by bringing attention to the fact that law enforcement deals with many acts of serious misconduct. This includes recent instances in the news of sexual assault by police officers in other cities.
In hindsight I believe the comparison was a poor analogy, and for this I apologize. I stand committed to transparent leadership and will continue to engage the community we serve in an open, honest, and timely manner.
The “emotional week” that Acevedo refers to includes the trial of Brandon Daniel, who was convicted this week of capital murder for killing an Austin police officer. That understandably does raise emotions in law enforcement, but if Acevedo is willing to cite heated emotions as the reason he employed that bizarre defense for his officers, we might also suggest that he consider if those same emotions may have led to an overreaction in how they handled the situation with the jaywalker.