“If your heart isn’t in this job, either step down or step out,” Austin Police Chief Hubert “Art” Acevedo said to his top brass during a private meeting on August 10 where he expressed his anger over the way his cops treat minorities, urging his commanders to push new community-friendly styles of policing to their officers – or lose their jobs.
The recording from the meeting, leaked this week by an unknown commander, reveals tension between Acevedo and a number of his 18 commanders and their subordinates as he apparently attempts to cross the thin blue line for the first time during his 9-year tenure as the Austin Police Chief.
Acevedo can be heard in the recording calling some of his commanders out for not supporting his decision to take disciplinary action against one of his cops for shooting an unarmed black kid, which is something he hasn’t done much since landing the job as chief in 2007.
It’s not clear which specific officers Acevedo is referring to, but he indicates details may be forthcoming.
“We are at a crossroads in American policing,” he frustratingly attempts to explain. “The problem ain’t the cops.”
“The problem is the leadership.”
The recording was released to the Austin American Statesman, which published it Thursday.
Acevedo vented his frustration with his subordinates for not supporting his decision to hold cops in his department accountable in two controversial cases this year, saying the Austin Police Department has “taken a step back” with so many officers defending the cops he held accountable.
During the meeting Acevedo questioned how any person, much less one of his commanders, could have disagreed with his decisions after watching video from the incidents.
In March, he fired Austin police officer Geoffrey Freeman after he shot to death an unarmed, mentally 17-year-old David Joseph as he ran naked towards him on February 8.
The chief said that Freeman could have used non-deadly methods to subdue Joseph such as a Taser, baton or mace because it was obvious the naked teen was not armed.
The chief said he just couldn’t understand it.
“If you can’t handle a kid in broad daylight, naked, and your first instinct is to come out with your gun, and your next instinct is to shoot the kid dead, you don’t need to be a cop. I don’t give a shit how nice you are,” Chief Acevedo told the group.
“The union got all pissed off because I fired Freeman. Some of you might have gotten pissed off. I’m going to tell you right now. If we have another Freeman tomorrow, that is what’s going to happen.”
“I didn’t lose a minute of sleep,” he told to his staff.
Acevedo reminded the group of another incident involving Austin police officer Brian Richter who stopped Breaion King, 26-year-old African-American school teacher.
Dash cam footage from that stop, shows seven seconds go by between the time Richter tells King to put her feet in the car to when he yanks her from the driver’s seat and slams her onto the asphalt.
“I am sickened that somehow people are still trying to justify Richter,” Acevedo said in the meeting.
“Nobody wearing stripes, or bars or stars should even think about justifying a woman — that the reason that woman got pulled out of that car is because she had the audacity to tell him to hurry up,” he said, adding that officer Richter overreacted when King questioned him.
“She wasn’t going with the program.”
“You know what? Millennials ask questions, so get over it. If you are going to order somebody to do something, you better have a damn good reason if you are going to take them to jail.”
“That was such an easy stop to de-escalate,” the chief added.
Cops who support Richter argue that the arrest report states the woman did not comply with his verbal commands, so she deserved what she got.
“Who cares what he wrote?” asked Acevedo.
“Because I think we have this attitude… of I’ll just cover it in the report and I’ll be good to go…. Anyone can do creative writing. Does that make sense to you guys?”
Acevedo attempted to explain to commanders the racial elements he says are behind the way Richter overreacted to King, although it’s not clear if they understood what he was saying or if they have the ethical conscience to care.
“Had that been a pretty white girl in her Sunday best dress, I don’t think that Richter would have responded, acting the same exact way. I don’t think that Richter would have responded that way,” Acevedo said.
“That was a horrific video. And if you look at that video and aren’t horrified by what you saw, shame on you.
The Austin Police Chief has historically aligned with police unions who hire experts in the Police PR Spin Machine.
Now, he says in order to make the changes needed to prevent another Breaion King or David Joseph, the officers in leadership positions have to be the bad guys.
Even if it isn’t popular.
“We have got to raise our game,” he said at the meeting.
“You are commanders. If you don’t like it, you can move on, or you can demote. I’m not going to hold that against anybody if it’s not for you, but we have got to step up.”
“I have given nine years of my life to the Austin Police Department,” Acevedo told APD commanders.
“Nine years aren’t going to go down the drain because we have people in this room that don’t want to do the hard lifting, that don’t want to be the bad guys. Sorry, we have to be the bad guys sometimes.”
Critics of Austin police have alleged that since he was hired as the chief in 2007, Chief Acevedo has been soft on disciplining his cops and even has a history of shamelessly defending bad cops in court or to return to work at the same time community activists called of the cop, like in the case of Nathan Wagner, the Austin cop who shot 20-year-old unarmed Byron Carter.
Many residents wonder what took Acevedo so long to come around to this style of leadership.
Others wonder if he’ll follow through with implementing more community-friendly policing standards.
And if he does, how effective can he be when leaders in the police union will likely challenge and oppose him at every turn if for nothing but spite.
Acevedo told the Statesman he was disappointed the commander who secretly recorded the meeting “didn’t have the fortitude to have a face-to-face conversation when I’ve had an open door policy my entire career.”
Texas is a one-party consent state when it comes to recording conversation, meaning that at least one party consents to the recording, which in this case would be one of the commanders in the room, it is not a crime.