Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Austin chief: Police treat high-profile defendants differently from the rest of us

The president of Austin's police union, Wayne Vincent, questioned whether local talk show host Jeff Ward received special treatment after Ward had his fiancé call APD Chief Art Acevedo while he was pulled over on the side of the road. Surprisingly, the chief responded by openly admitting that, as a matter of departmental policy, police supervisors pay more attention, much more quickly, in cases involving "high profile" defendants. Reported the Austin Statesman ("Police union president questions dismissal of radio host's DWI charge," June 21):
Vincent raised questions over whether Ward received preferential treatment.

"The process did not play out the way it was supposed to," he said.

Acevedo disagreed.

"We have an internal review process on incidents, and we follow that protocol," he said. "The only thing that occurred here is that the county attorney made a decision not to file charges."

Acevedo added that officers frequently review the arrest videos for elected officials, celebrities, athletes, police officers and other high-profile cases.

"Ward's case was treated like any other high-profile incident," Acevedo said. "It was reviewed by the chain of command and submitted to the county attorney's office, who made an independent decision."
Why should elected officials, celebrities, athletes and police officers be treated differently than everybody else? That seems hard to justify. Several commenters at the Statesman made that point, with one declaring "WHY is there a different set of rules for one segment of the population? This is wrong, wrong, wrong." Why, indeed!

OTOH the complaint could backfire for Vincent, who's trying to make hay criticizing the chief to score points with police rank and file in an upcoming, contested union election. Since, according to Acevedo, police officers are the only non-public figures whose cases receive special treatment, one doubts Vincent's union members really would prefer that policy be reversed.

RELATED: False arrests for DWI in Austin highlighted by bust of talk-show host.


Anonymous said...

Has anyone forgotten about Augie, our UT baseball coach, getting arrested and pleading guilty to DWI? I'd say he was pretty high-profile. Just because someone gets arrested for a crime does not mean they are guilty of it.

jimbino said...

We need someone to file a class-action lawsuit against APD and the City of Austin.

Unknown said...

Who's surprised here? I remember asking a high ranking police officer why they didn't get tickets for speeding or not stopping at stop signs, texting while driving, etc...just the little offenses that everyone has seen before. His reply: "See where that license plate says Exempt? That's why." Same goes with anyone with a celebrity status. Special conditions. Your average joe would have to shell out tons of money on bail, lawyers, etc even if they charges were dismissed. Even a bad arrest will cost the person time and lots of money. Now we just have the Chief of Police stating, on record, that there is a double standard in play.

Of course, nothing will come of it.

Anonymous said...

Grits asks: "Why should elected officials, celebrities, athletes and police officers be treated differently than everybody else? That seems hard to justify." Well, let me give it a shot with a few of the reasons that might be in play:

1. Achieving the goal of deterring crime. A case involving a high profile defendant will naturally get more publicity than your standard DWI defendant. If you want that case to educate the public about the consequences of DWI, then you'd better be absolutely sure it's a good case and that you're not setting law enforcement up for a very public failure. If you do that, then you've sent a message that a) the police/DA office is incompetent, b) DWI isn't taken seriously in that county, and c) it was the quality of the lawyers involved and not the facts that led to the result.

2. Making sure you're not ruining the reputation of someone who's not guilty. A high profile defendant will naturally receive more press than your standard DWI defendant. While it's not good to ever file a loser case against any defendant, the negative media coverage for the high profile defendant for simply being charged are going to be far more damaging than for your regular defendant. Wouldn't you want law enforcement to be sure before pulling that lever?

To those who think this sort of policy shows some sort of malice or double standard, I ask you this: If the newspaper was going to run a story on one project you'd be working on in your place of business while totally ignoring another project, wouldn't it be prudent to let your boss double-check your work before presenting your work to the reporter? Isn't it sensible to look out for your colleagues and superiors who might be greatly impacted by negative coverage if you make a small mistake? Seems like common sense to me.

Anonymous said...

I think it became a very public failure anyway!

This leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. I've had clients whose DWIs got dismissed, but not in 24 hours. It took months, and a lot of money, and several trips to court. To hear the Chief acknowledge that high-profile arrestees get treated differently than the people who hire me, that's just disheartening.

And this guy isn't the first, either. I recall a few years ago a state senator's DWI case went from arrest to plea bargain in something like six days. If I've got a client whose DWI isn't worthy of being dismissed, I'd at least love to get him one of those six day deals.

Anonymous said...

Sound like the union just wants to stick it to the chief. Good example of why police and fire have no business being union.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:02,

If they didn't have unions then it would be a non-bargaining "association" representative making a similar comment.

J.R. said...

IT was the Ward smart-ass on KLBJ!
1. as he always says to callers who politely ask how he's doing..."Do you really care?"
No we dont care, if he was arrested and spent 1 hour or one day or one month locked up

2. its always up to the officer on the beat to do what he thinks is best at that very second in time. a cops daily routine is anything but routine. 999 times out of 1000 they use great judgement...live with it, you cant live without them!

3. it was the smart-ass guy from KLBJ...should have tasered him!