Community groups ask Justice Department to investigate Austin police

A coalition of community groups has joined a request by officials and lawmakers that the U.S. Justice Department investigate Austin police for what they say is an unconstitutional “pattern or practice of unlawful conduct.”

The letter comes after a December request from Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and Travis County District Attorney José Garza that federal officials investigate how officers used force during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, during which multiple demonstrators were left with serious, life-altering injuries.

Others, including Austin Democratic U.S. Reps. Greg Casar and Lloyd Doggett, have expanded upon that request for a more global review of the Austin Police Department.

“Austin’s current approach to law enforcement results in a pattern of unnecessarily aggressive and unlawful policing; a toxic culture that reinforces fear, hostility and social stereotypes of communities police are supposed to serve,” the letter said. “The community has made several unsuccessful efforts over the years to reform these deeply embedded Constitutional deficiencies in the Austin Police Department.”

The letter was signed by the Austin Area Urban League, the Austin Community Law Center, the Austin Justice Coalition, the Austin NAACP, Equity Action and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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The letter from the community groups highlights multiple high-profile and controversial incidents over the past eight years. They include the 2015 violent arrest of teacher Breaion King and a videotape that later surfaced of her ride to jail in which an Austin police officer told her that people fear Black people because of their “violent tendencies.”

They also highlight more recent incidents, including the April 2020 shooting death of Michael Ramos by Austin police officer Christopher Taylor. Taylor faced trial last year on a murder charge, and a jury deadlocked. Prosecutors have said they will retry the case.

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The Justice Department has not said when it will respond to the requests for a review.

The last Justice Department investigation of Austin police came about 15 years ago and concluded in 2011 with no findings of a pattern or practice that violated federal laws or the Constitution.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Community groups ask Justice Department to investigate Austin police