Austin Councilmember Alison Alter Singles Out APD for Capitol Riot Investigation, Though None of Its Officers Were There

In a phone and email exchange Thursday, Austin city council member Alison Alter demanded that Austin Police Chief Brian Manley “proactively” investigate all APD officers for the violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. No APD officers have been found to have even been in Washington that day.

Alter spoke with and emailed APD Chief Brian Manley on Thursday afternoon, January 14, and an exchange followed during which Manley explains to Alter that her demand for an investigation of every APD officer for actions none are accused of taking would, among other things, strain the department’s investigative resources.

Alter also demanded that Manley issue a statement to APD to “set the tone.” Here is Alter’s first email in the exchange. It’s dated January 14, 2021, at 3:35 PM.

Dear Chief Manley,

Thank you for your time this afternoon. As I stated in our conversation today, I am dismayed by your refusal to proactively investigate whether any APD members participated in the January 6th insurrection.

I would like to ask a follow up question, prompted by a letter that the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent to members of our military in the wake of last week’s events at the Capitol. See READ: Military Joint Chiefs condemn ‘sedition and insurrection’ at US Capitol – CNNPolitics. As the Chief of Police, you too have an opportunity to unmistakably set the tone for the department. Accordingly, I would like to see a similar communication to all APD officers and staff from you. I suggest that you make clear to every officer and staff member where our department leadership stands. You can send this letter by email or other channels you have available, rather than social media if you wish. Once again I think the letter from the Joint Chiefs of the U.S. Military is a model for you.

Have you sent any such department-wide or officer specific communication out related to the events of Jan. 6 in D.C.? If not, I request that you do this within the next 24 hours as we face major nationwide concerns of violence.

Please send me a copy of your correspondence to all officers or please send me an explanation for why you are doing something different. Let me be clear I expect you to take action immediately.

Regards,

Alison Alter

Council Member, District 10

According to her official bio, Alter is a former professor.

There were teachers present at the Capitol on January 6. Alter has issued no call for the Austin Independent School District to “proactively” investigate its teachers. There were also firefighters present at the Capitol on January 6. Alter has issued no call for the Austin Fire Department to “proactively” investigate its firefighters. Alter is evidently singling APD out for scrutiny.

Here is Chief Manley’s reply to Alter, about two hours after her initial email:

CM Alter,

Since there are many others copied on this email that were not a part of our conversation, and I was not aware the contents of our discussion were going to be shared among this group, I think it is only appropriate to include some context here. I want to reiterate the steps I have taken and will take if necessary, and the reasons I am not moving forward with an investigation at this time. First, you do not have any indication any APD personnel took part in the assembly, protest, or insurrection at the US Capitol, nor have I received any information implicating the same. I am aware of 4 people out of the thousands who were allegedly involved in the illegal activities at the Capitol who are law enforcement officers, again not APD officers. You were not requesting a similar investigation into any other city department or group of employees, only APD.

As I explained on our call, we do not open investigations into our officers to prove they did not engage in conduct that nobody has alleged they did. The amount of resources it would take to conduct an investigation into the hundreds, if not over a thousand officers who were not on duty that day would be overwhelming and would pull investigators and others away from investigating actual complaints of misconduct we have received through our normal course of business. This would also impact the morale of our officers who were investigated without cause as there are not any allegations of their wrongdoing…in other words we have to prove they did not go to DC and commit a crime instead of trusting in the character they have demonstrated in their service to our community over their careers.

For those not privy to the call, I did highlight that I have already spoken with the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI regarding their ongoing investigation. I got an assurance from him that he would immediately reach out to me if they uncovered any information through their investigation that an APD officer was involved and we would assist in any way we could, to include providing photos for facial recognition comparison or any other level of assistance. I also discussed how the City Manager has made it clear to me that he would want an immediate notification if information arose about an APD employee participating in these events.

I also discussed with CM Alter that if an officer (or other employee) were found to be present, we would immediately open up an investigation into their conduct to determine if there were violations of APD policy or potentially the law. I also advised that if we received information through any source that APD personnel were involved that we would immediately share that information with the FBI so they could include that in their criminal investigation. This is exactly how other police agencies I am aware of are handling this issue as well. I spoke with Chief Acevedo in Houston yesterday about this very issue since he had one of the 4 officers who was involved, and he is approaching this in the same manner as I am.

As I told you on the call, I am deeply troubled by the actions of those who took over our US Capitol last week. I advised you that not only were their actions an affront to our democracy, but they were illegal and they murdered a police officer as well. For all these reasons, and others we discussed, I am greatly offended by what took place as are so many on my team with whom I have discussed this. It is simply not the right course to investigate a large majority of my department when there are no allegations of wrongdoing or any reason to believe they engaged in inappropriate or illegal conduct. If made aware otherwise, I will immediately take action.

As for communicating with my department, I regularly put out messages or videos and this may be covered in a future communication…but to be clear the men and women of APD know where I stand on law and order and understand the expectations I have of their conduct.

Regards,

Brian

Brian Manley

Chief of Police

Police (and fire) departments have an internal affairs division that would be tasked with such an investigation. Alter’s demand would push that division well outside its traditional mission of investigating officers after they are specifically accused of wrongdoing, not “proactively” before they are accused.

Chief Acevedo was Austin’s police chief prior to moving to take the helm in Houston. He has been outspoken in criticizing Democrat officials such as Alison Alter for defunding the police.

Alter replied to Manley at 9:13 PM Thursday night, climbing down from her demand for a “proactive” investigation of the APD, but reiterating her demand for a message from Chief Manley to all of APD:

Dear Chief Manley,

I would like to return to the substance of my original email message this afternoon, which centered on asking you to seize an opportunity to demonstrate the culture we wish to see in our police force. Many other leaders in our country and city have chosen to straightforwardly call out the events of January 6th and the participants for what they are.

I appreciate that you believe that the men and women of APD know your beliefs on law and order and your expectations of their conduct. If you are correct, I ask you to consider what is the worst that might happen if you were to issue a letter or video or other communication along the lines of the Joint Chiefs? Would a little repetition really hurt APD staff? As an educator and as a parent, it has been my experience that you look for teachable moments to encourage desired behavior and that repetition helps lessons sink in.

I also must add that my conversations with APD officers on other elements of expectations and police culture suggest the clarity you assume, is not always present as one moves down the chain of command. At a time when our country and our city are shaken, speaking up and sharing your views and expectations clearly presents an opportunity to lead your department and build trust with the broader community. I frankly do not understand the hesitancy. In my prior email I shared the letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff as an example and learned today that the Army Futures Command held a town hall on the issue.

For those following this conversation, I would like to note that as of today the press is reporting 28+ law enforcement officers allegedly involved in the insurrection – Police Forces Dealing With Officers Involved in Capitol Riots | Time.

I repeat my request; I ask that you send a strong message to all members of the police department explaining the values and expectations for their conduct in light of the recent events at the U.S. Capitol. Given the current threats, this message should be communicated within the next 24 hours. Please send a copy to me and all other members of the city council.

Thank you for your attention to this vitally important matter. I appreciate your responsiveness to the elected leaders of the city in this trying time.

Regards,

Alison Alter

Council Member, District 10

Supposing the media’s number of police officers involved in January 6 is correct, which tends not to be a safe assumption as the numbers fluctuate between reports, that would be 28 officers present out of the nearly 700,000 across the United States. The article Alter links notes that 29 law enforcement officers were present at the rally on January 6 — not that all of those law enforcement officers were involved in the violence. That is still under investigation. Being present at the rally is not illegal. Chief Manley notes that four law enforcement officers have been accused of illegal activities during the riot. None of them belong to APD.

One retired Chicago firefighter was falsely accused by a Twitter mob, upending his life despite the fact that he was 600 miles away from the Capitol on January 6.

Chief Manley replied to Alter, and included all of APD in his response.

CM Alter,

As requested, I am sending an email to my organization regarding our conversations of the past few days. This email is going to the entire department along with those who have been a part of our discussion over the past few days. Although it will not show up in the address line, I have BCC’d all APD personnel (commissioned and civilian) on this email. I am including our previous email exchange so the department understands your passion for this issue (and that I shared mine with you as well).

As I stated to you during those conversations, I find the riots, violence, and insurrection that took place at our US Capitol last week reprehensible, illegal, and an affront to our democratic principles. The fact that they resulted in the murder of a police officer and the death of several others magnifies this. I also stated I know the heart of my organization and that those feelings and beliefs are shared among my personnel since we have all either sworn an oath (commissioned) or joined an organization (civilian) that stands for defending the constitution and rule of law. I agree with you that there is no harm in repeating this message and am therefore doing so by way of this email. I appreciate you including proposed language from the Military Chief’s communication; however I have found that when you speak from the heart in your own voice it carries better.

APD All,

I want to take a moment as we enter into a weekend where there has been threats made to the Capitols across our Country in response to the recent Presidential election and upcoming Inauguration. I know you all watched the events that occurred at our US Capitol and were shocked by the violence. For me, the visual of those rioters illegally entering the Capitol, committing acts of violence and vandalism against one of the greatest symbols of democracy, attacking law enforcement officials, and threatening the safety and security of our elected officials rivals the images of the terrorist acts committed on 9/11 that took so many lives and will forever stand as a stain on our society. It is disheartening and disappointing to learn that there were law enforcement personnel among those committing these violent and illegal actions…officers who swore an oath similar to that which we swore (for commissioned), but violate that oath in such a horrendous way. Please know that I stand with you in your disgust over these actions.

I appreciate everything you all have done in preparation for the week ahead. I both expect and know you will serve with honor, dignity, and respect for our democratic principles, rule of law, and departmental values. We not only represent that line between the rule of law and tyranny, but also as the stewards of our community wellbeing. The motto for our Special Response Team, “Defend the First”, embodies those principles and I know that regardless of where you stand on political issues, you understand the absolute need to put those beliefs and feelings aside when carrying out your duties.

Thanks for all you do in service to our community, and Stay Safe!

Brian

Alter voted for defunding Austin’s police in August 2020, slashing the budget by about $140 to $150 million — the largest police budget cut by percentage in the nation. Crime in Austin has soared since Alter and her fellow council members cast the defunding vote. At one point, Austin’s violent crime surge led the nation.

Morale within APD has been sinking ever since Alter and her fellow councilmembers and Mayor Steve Adler unanimously defunded the department. Jimmy Flannigan was ousted from the council in the runoffs by Mackenzie Kelly, who ran on a platform of restoring police funding.

According to an APD source, the department will see 22 sworn officers retire or resign this month alone, adding to the rapid depletion of APD. APD was already short by about 200 officers at the start of 2020, before any of the defunding calls or votes happened. Alter’s defunding vote also canceled cadet classes, meaning APD will be unable to replace the officers who are leaving the department in large numbers.

Alter narrowly won reelection in the December runoffs. Her anti-police stance, votes, and rhetoric helped land her in the runoff in the first place. The Austin Police Association, former Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and others endorsed Alter’s opponent, but Alter narrowly won and remains on the council. APA has strongly condemned Alter’s demand for a “proactive” investigation of the police and questioned her motives.

Is Alison Alter using her position on the City Council as a means to threaten or intimidate the men and women of the Austin Police Department?

If so, it may constitute an abuse of power.

Mayor Adler faced calls to resign when he told Austin residents to stay home rather than attend family Thanksgiving gatherings — and he was caught in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico while telling others to stay home.

Alison Alter has never publicly condemned the rioters who instigated violence in Austin during the 2020 riots, not even after they illegally and dangerously blocked intersections, vandalized the state capitol, attempted to storm Austin police headquarters, burned the American and Texas flags, and assaulted and hurled racist insults at a black law enforcement officer. Other Democrats, such as Dallas’ Commissioner John Wiley Price, did condemn the rioters at the time. Alison Alter did not.

The cuts to the police budget that Alter voted for are coming into effect this month.