Austin City Council approves comprehensive third-party review of APD's handling of sexual assault cases

Council Member Alison Alter sponsored the resolution, which calls for a comprehensive third-party review of the Austin Police Department's handling of sexual assault cases.

Council Member Alison Alter sponsored the resolution, which calls for a comprehensive third-party review of the Austin Police Department's handling of sexual assault cases.

Austin City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution calling for the city to hire a third party to evaluate how the Austin Police Department evaluates and processes reported sexual assaults. Council Member Jimmy Flannigan was not in attendance.

The decision arrived at the close of its Jan. 31 meeting, the first of the year, after a series of emotional public testimonies from sexual assault survivors and those who work on their behalf.

The resolution, sponsored by Council Member Alison Alter and co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Members Greg Casar and Ann Kitchen, came in the wake of a Jan. 11 state audit report that found APD had incorrectly cleared or misclassified a majority—66—of 95 reviewed rape cases.

The scope of the resolution is broader than APD’s process for clearing sexual assault cases and specifies a comprehensive review of “the entire life cycle of sexual assault cases with the APD."

"We will be judged not by this resolution but by the actions that we take either in the interim or down the line," Alter said.

Speakers stood behind the podium for the duration of the testimony, wearing yellow bandanas around their arms, wrists and necks in a sign of solidarity.

All 10 council members also had yellow bandanas tied around their microphones on the dais.

Marina Conner returned to the podium after first speaking there in September 2016, when she testified before council about how her own rape kit was among a backlog of more than 1,000 cases.

Three years later, Conner spoke about how she had learned her reported rape had been exceptionally cleared by APD.

Exceptional clearance is a mechanism by which law enforcement agencies can close an investigation without making an arrest.

To do so, the agency must know the offender’s identity and location; have enough information to support an arrest, charge and case against him or her; and be unable to do so because of some reason outside law enforcement control, such as a survivor who stops participating in an investigation or a prosecutor who declines the case, according to the Universal Crime Reporting Handbook, which is published by the FBI.

“While I cooperated [with the investigation] at every point, the Austin Police Department exceptionally cleared [my case] and reported it to you as a cleared case,” Conner said. “Right now it feels like we live in a city of disbelief and a city that doesn’t care.”

Two in 5 women and 1 in 5 men in Texas have been sexually assaulted, according to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Nearly 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, per a U.S. Justice Department analysis of violent crime in 2016.

Amanda Lewis, a member of the Austin Commission on Women, said the resolution is the start of a long process to reform the city’s response to sexual assault.

“We believe that Austin can be the best place for women and girls, and we see this as a big first step,” Lewis said.


Campuses in Austin ISD will be closes to in-person learning the week after Thanksgiving break. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
All Austin ISD classes to be held online through Dec. 4

The district will also be providing free COVID-19 tests to staff and families Dec. 2-4.

Bicycles for public use are docked at a MetroBike station on Lake Austin Boulevard. Austin's $460 million Proposition B will include funding for additional bicycle lanes through the city. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Breaking down Austin's $460 million bond for bike lanes, trails, sidewalks and more

The bond will fun a bridge over Pleasant Valley Road connecting two ends of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike trail, among other improvements.

Local health leaders are urging caution ahead of Thanksgiving. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Ahead of Thanksgiving, Travis County health officials urge caution

Austin Public Health leaders say gatherings with people outside one's household held indoors and without masks pose the greatest risk.

Harini Logan, 10, won the 66th annual Express-News Spelling Bee at the University of Texas at San Antonio downtown campus on March 17, 2019. For 2021, the event is slated to be held in March at the Brauntex Performing Arts Theatre in New Braunfels. (Photo by Jerry Lara, courtesy the San Antonio Express News)
New Braunfels to host regional spelling bee and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan for the state Nov. 23 for a vaccine he said could be available as soon as December. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

The vaccine could start being distributed "as early as next month," according to a Nov. 23 news release.

ACC’s Pinnacle Campus has been closed since 2018. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Community College: There’s 'excitement' for a new Pinnacle campus

The Southwest Austin campus has been closed since 2018 due to poor facility conditions.

A new pedestrian path was build along Sawyer Ranch Road this fall. (Courtesy Hays County)
Sawyer Ranch Road shared-use path completed in Dripping Springs

The project is one of the first completed through Hays County's 2016 bond.

P. Terry’s Burger Stand is expected to open its long-awaited Pflugerville location this January. (Courtesy P. Terry's Burger Stand)
P. Terry's to open in Pflugerville in January and more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

The Bridge at Turtle Creek apartment complex will provide more than 300 affordable units upon completion in 2022. (Rendering courtesy Journeyman Group)
Austin development updates: Apartments could replace two Rainey Street bars, 307 affordable housing units coming to South First Street area

A 569-foot apartment complex could replace Javelina and Craft Bar. Meanwhile, development continues in the St. Elmo area.

Trail of Lights (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Holiday markets, strolls, tree lightings and Trail of Lights: 18 events in the Austin area in November and December

The Trail of Lights has gone drive-thru this year, while the Blue Genie Art Bazaar is taking free, ticketed reservations to adhere to social distancing requirements.

Austin voters approved a $7.1 billion public transit expansion Nov. 3 that will add bus and rail in Austin. (Design by Miranda Baker/Community Impact Newspaper)
After historic public transportation vote, here is what's next for Project Connect in Austin

Shovels won't be hitting the ground on the light rail and downtown tunnel for years, but work is getting started now after Austinites approved the $7.1 billion plan Nov. 3.

Laura Colangelo
Q&A: Laura Colangelo discusses challenges facing private schools during pandemic

Colangelo said private schools have adapted to remote learning and other obstacles in 2020 despite less revenue and a 9% decline in enrollment statewide.