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.
By Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.


COVID-19 hospitalizations also increased to 97 in the Austin metro. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
88 new coronavirus cases in Travis County on June 1 set single-day high

COVID-19 hospitalizations also increased to 97 in the Austin metro.

Director of Elementary Schools Monica Gonzalez said June 1 that the district is looking into training teachers this summer to prepare for partial or full-time virtual learning. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD planning for blended teaching approach for school year beginning Aug. 18

A blended approach would allow the district to switch from in-person learning to virtual learning when needed.

Protesters and Texas Rangers stood face to face during demonstrations at the Texas Capitol on May 31. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
National, state, local officials continue to blame outside agitators for turning protests violent over the weekend

As violence erupted in Austin and cities across the country over the weekend, leaders from all ranks said outside groups usurped the demonstrations and turned them chaotic.

A photo of SH 45 SW
SH 45 SW toll has been open in South Austin for a year

A long-planned toll road connected southwest Travis County and north Hays county clebrates its first anniversary.

Richard Rhodes, the president and CEO of Austin Community College, said June 1 that the district is prioritizing the hiring of a new chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer. (Courtesy Austin Community College)
Austin Community College prioritizing hiring equity officer despite ongoing hiring freeze

The district brought up the hiring during a discussion about protests and demonstrations that have taken place over the past weekend.

Businesses shuttering their doors due to coronavirus restrictions lowered the sales tax revenue collected by cities in May compared to May 2019. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas comptroller reports 13.2% year-over-year state sales tax revenue drop in May

Tax collection revenue fell significantly in several sectors from May 2019 to May 2020, according to the comptroller's office.

Demonstrators gathered at the Texas Capitol on May 31 to protest police brutality. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas officials respond to demonstrations, unrest in wake of George Floyd killing

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a state of disaster in Texas on May 31, while various city officials and law enforcment responded to protests and violence over the weekend.

A group of 16 mayors from municipalities within Travis County have signed a letter to County Judge Sam Biscoe requesting a per capita approach to the issue of COVID-19 relief funding. (Screenshot courtesy Kara King)
Group of 16 Travis County mayors signs letter requesting $23M in county COVID-19 relief funds

City leaders in Travis County, from Bee Cave to manor, have signed a letter to County Judge Sam Biscoe requesting more than $23 million in federal coronavirus relief funds be released to 21 municipalities as soon as possible.

Austin City Hall was one of several downtown buildings to be vandalized during this past weekend's protests. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin leaders, representatives react to weekend protests

Local, state and federal representatives took to social media throughout the weekend to voice their opinions.

Blazier Elementary School students break ground on a new relief campus in Southeast Austin in June 2019. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD accepting names for new Blazier Elementary relief campus through June 5

The new relief campus for Blazier Elementary School will open this August.

Protesters march toward the Texas Capitol. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
PHOTOS: Demonstrators gathered in front of the Texas Capitol as protests against police brutality continued nationwide

Protests against the killings of Goerge Floyd and Michael Ramos took place throughout the weekend in Austin.

Dripping Springs Healthcare rebrands to CARMApsychiatry

The facility offers psychotherapy, medication and alternative medicine treatments for mental health conditions.