Sunday, March 19, 2006

22 Austin Police Officers were suspended in the last 5 months of 2005

Twenty-two Austin Police officers have been reprimanded and suspended for departmental violations ranging from unnecessary use of force and public intoxication to falling asleep on duty, according to disciplinary memos issued by the Civil Service Commission from August through December 31.

Among the circumstances surrounding the suspensions of the last five months of 2005 are:

•Sgt. Daniel Armstrong was suspended in November for 42 days for driving while intoxicated when off-duty. An officer found Armstrong in the Cedar Park Post Office parking lot asleep behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 pickup, the report states. Armstrong was given a $257 public intoxication ticket.

Armstrong said in an interview that he embarrassed himself and the department.

"I deserved every one of those 42 days," the 12-year-Austin police department veteran said. But he added, "When police are disciplined, I ask that the public does not crucify them but think instead about what we deal with on a daily basis."

•Detective Ralph Tijerina was suspended for 25 days in December for driving in an impaired state in Hitchcock, near Houston.

•Officer Julie Schroeder was indefinitely suspended in November for
violating the police department's use of force policy when she fatally shot

Daniel Rocha on June 9. Schroeder shot Rocha during a scuffle after she lost her Taser.

Schroeder, who was later fired, didn't use the minimum level of force necessary to arrest Rocha, she violated the Taser policy by carrying her Taser inappropriately and she violated the department's video recording policy, the report said.

•Sgt. Don Doyle was suspended for 28 days in November for failing to use his mobile video/audio recording equipment to tape Rocha's traffic stop.

•Officer Joseph Swann was indefinitely suspended in August for grabbing a man's crutches and pushing him to the ground during a March 20 traffic stop.

•Sgt. Kevin Leverenz was suspended for 15 days for not turning on his in-car video camera after he had issued a man two citations.

Leverenz assaulted the man, whom he says made an obscene gesture at him, but he failed to document the incident and lied about his encounter with the man, according to the report.

•Detective Robert Hightower was suspended for 90 days in December for making inappropriate comments to and engaging in inappropriate behavior with his co-workers.

•Cpl. Andrew Haynes was suspended for three days in October for making inappropriate comments to a man during a traffic stop in the 1800 block of East 12th Street on April 19.

•Officer Ewa Wegner was suspended for 10 days, and her former partner, Officer Charlie Maestas Jr., was suspended for five when the department discovered they had run up $7,579.16 in cell phone charges between 2004 and 2005.

Both Wegner and Maestas admitted that they used the phones for personal calls and that they did not reimburse the city for expenses incurred, the report states.

•Officer Gregory Thornton was suspended for 10 days for parking his car outside of a motel where his girlfriend's car was parked and waited for her while he was off-duty.

Thornton followed the man who had been with her, the report said, and obtained his license plate number. When Thornton was on-duty July 28, he checked the man's warrants, driver's license number and address.

•Officer Robert Cortez was indefinitely suspended in November for neglect of duty and insubordination. A month after he was put on a personal improvement plan, he called or text-messaged his girlfriend 25 times during his patrol shift, actions taped by the video and audio systems in his car.

Cortez was also disciplined for failing to respond to calls and taking too long to write reports.

•In July, Officer Jared Tucker was driving west on RM 12 in Hays County when he tried to pass three vehicles traveling in the same direction when it wasn't safe to do so.

Tucker caused a wreck but didn't check on the crash victim and mitigated his responsibility when Department of Public Safety officials questioned him about his role in the incident, the report states. He was suspended for 90 days.

Click here for the full story as reported in the Austin American Statesman