Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sheriff candidate targeted for refusing to train detectives in Reid technique, prioritizing rape victims ... and this is an attack, how?

Until now, Austin PD brass, investigative reporters who studied the case, and Sgt. Liz Donegan all agreed: Donegan was removed as head of the Sex Crimes Unit in 2011 because she insisted on following the FBI Uniform Crime Report's definitions on whether a rape case is "cleared" while APD brass wanted her to fudge the numbers to boost the clearance rates upward. Regular readers will recall the scandal at the Austin PD, first reported on the national podcast, Reveal. Chief Bryan Manley portrayed the incident as a policy disagreement that was resolved with her removal.

When she was gone, clearance rates for the unit predictably skyrocketed. But an independent analysis by the Department of Public Safety found APD was improperly misclassifying many cases as "cleared." In other words, Donegan was right and should never have been removed. Donegan, ultimately left the department and is presently running as a Democrat for Travis County Sheriff. See Grits' prior coverage of her story and the fallout, here:
It's important to note that Chief Manley has never disputed that Sgt. Donegan was removed from the Sex Crimes Unit over the categorization of cleared cases. He just insisted she was categorizing them wrong. Then, at 4:45 P.M. on New Years Eve in 2018, the chief released the results of the DPS analysis declaring Donegan was right about the clearance-rate definitions and APD brass had made a mistake. Last I heard, APD said it would take at least until 2022 (!) to figure out how to adjust their policies going forward.

Nobody at the time claimed Donegan was removed because she was too victim-centric or had failed to train new detectives. But now, six weeks before the primary election that will decide if she becomes the next Travis County Sheriff, we hear these allegations.

The Austin Statesman was largely uninterested in covering this story when it was Chief Manley's turn in the barrel, but now has begun filing open records requests on Donegan and uncovered a memo, apparently contemporaneous with her ouster, which neither Donegan nor investigative reporters who earlier had peppered the agency with open-records requests had ever seen before. (My guess: someone must have leaked where it was and how to ask for it.) In it, an Austin PD Lieutenant both praised Donegan, in many respects, but also criticized her. The memo was presented to an APD Commander as providing a justification for Donegan's removal.

The memo, from Lt. Michael Eveleth, began by declaring he was promoted out of the Sex Crimes unit shortly after Donegan's arrival. So most or all of this is second-hand, not things he witnessed personally working under her. Many direct criticisms were pulled from detective surveys.

For starters, though, the memo began by praising Donegan at length, although hardly a whisper of that praise made it into the Austin Statesman's hit piece on the topic. For example:
Sgt. Donegan has fought for resources and additional investigators and has brought national recognition to the Austin Police Department's Sex Crimes unit. She has been instrumental (along with the Austin Travis County Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team, Safeplace and Victim Services) in educating the public and law enforcement in regards to stranger vs. non-stranger sexual assaults. Sgt. Donegan recognized that most sexual assault training addressed stranger assaults, when in reality, most offenders are known to the victim.
It's also worth pointing out that, by his own admission, Eveleth never made any of these criticisms to Donegan's face.
I truly believe that Sgt. Donegan has done a great job locally, statewide and nationally in educating and informing the law enforcement community, and the public, about the struggles and challenges of sexual assault victims and difficulties in investigating and prosecuting those cases, especially non-stranger. She also cares about her detectives and has always been supportive of them when they have had to deal with personal and family matters. I have shared with Sgt. Donegan that I believe she has made great strides with the Austin Police Department's Sex Crimes Unit.
But what Eveleth said to Sgt. Donegan and what he said to APD Commanders about her were wildly different things. While he told her she'd made "great strides," he told APD brass that "the national recognition, the educational campaigns, and the outside training has had significant consequences on the Austin Police Department's Sex Crimes unit," which suffers from a "void in day to day supervision." With friends like that, who needs enemies!

Eveleth's biggest complaint was that, even though all the data agreed with Donegan that non-stranger sexual assaults should be a bigger priority, he disliked reduced emphasis on stranger-assualt cases because those are "the type of assaults that the media reports on." A detective quoted says stranger rapes should be a bigger priority because "these are the cases that make the news." Eveleth lamented that Donegan had hesitated to encourage sensationalized media coverage on stranger rapes without full information. Eveleth wanted the department to issue a media release in one such case because those are the incidents that "garner the most attention."

Eveleth cherrypicked from detective surveys saying Donegan is too "one-sided" on behalf of crime victims' interests and too much of a "victim advocate." This is maybe the first time I'd heard that used as an internal criticism of a police officer! (In his prose, Eveleth mentioned that some detectives expressed pride at Donegan and the division's work and supported the unit's mission, but only negative quotes were pulled out to be highlighted.)

His other big complaint was even more telling and, if local reporters understood what they were reading, in reality reflects quite well on Sgt. Donegan. Eveleth was unhappy that she did not embrace having her detectives trained in the "Reid technique" for interrogating suspects. He was upset that only one person from her unit attended a training organized by the department.

The Reid technique emphasizes befriending suspects on the front end, then accusing them aggressively, threatening them with worst-case scenarios and hoping they'll crack. Grits readers will recall many articles on this topic, and lately it's starting to be abandoned by interrogation experts.

Honestly, it's very much to Donegan's credit that she failed to send her people to that training; these are methods that have been directly associated with false convictions. Austin PD shouldn't be training any detectives to use them.

So the complaints seem to be that 1) she refused to train her officers in techniques that produce false convictions; 2) she prioritized victims and their interests; 3) she refused to promote sensationalized media coverage before a case had been investigated; 4) some of her detectives thought they needed more training, and 5) national attention and accolades had left her too big for her britches.

Given the machismo-oriented departmental culture, any successful woman at APD would be criticized for #5. To me, #4 seems like something open for interpretation (especially if the training available is Reid-technique oriented). And #1-3 sound like badges of honor!

Steering the Statesman reporter toward this document was likely a campaign-driven attack, but it hardly matters. To anyone with enough context to understand what they're looking at, this document endorses Donegan more than it critiques her. Regrettably, "Statesman readers" do not necessarily number among those privy to context when it comes to local criminal-justice reporting.


Steven Michael Seys said...

Considering how many false confessions are produced by the use of the Reid technique and how vulnerable rape victims are, I would vote for this candidate were I eligible to vote in Travis County. The "criticism" ought to backfire, and that would truly be poetic justice.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that APD has not adopted the Start By Believing campaign.