Officers In Shootings to Review Tapes In
Acevedo says he wants to improve accuracy
By Tony Plohetski
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Austin police officers involved in
shootings can now view videos from their
patrol car cameras before speaking with
homicide investigators, a move that Austin
Police Chief Art Acevedo said he hopes will
prevent such inquiries from stalling and
improve the accuracy of officers'
Police department leaders changed the
practice — despite objections from some
detectives who review such incidents — after
two officers involved in a July 8 shooting
of a man refused to provide a written or
oral account of what happened until they
viewed their videos. Police officials said
the officers' decisions, allowed under Texas
law but not standard procedure in Austin,
temporarily prevented the investigation from
Assistant Police Chief David Carter, who
is the department's chief of staff, said the
move is part of a broader review of how the
department investigates police shootings.
Carter said the review could lead to the
creation of a special police shooting
Tom Stribling, an attorney who
represented officers David Nordstrom and
Marlon Goodloe, said they declined at his
advice to provide statements before
reviewing their tape because "they wanted to
give an accurate account of what occurred."
"When an officer is involved in a
(shooting), their memory or perception of
events may not be as accurate as it would be
had they been allowed to review and remember
things based upon that review of the video,"
Acevedo said officers should review the
tapes before providing statements in most
instances, unless investigators suspect the
officer committed a crime. In those cases,
investigators would be able to withhold the
tapes with approval from their supervisors.
"By doing this, we are allowing officers
to give their best statement, their most
accurate statement, and most importantly, a
timely statement, so we can move forward
with the investigation," Acevedo said. "You
can't change the facts by reviewing the
video. And you can't change the video by
looking at it."
Homicide investigators, who have
traditionally investigated police shootings
for any criminal violations, have defended
their practice to Acevedo, saying that
seeking officers' statements before showing
the video would provide an unbiased report
of what happened. Several members of the
homicide unit declined to comment for this
Some community groups that monitor police
shooting investigations said they understand
Acevedo's decision but are still concerned.
"It encourages officers to adopt a story
to fit what the images might show," said
Nelson Linder, president of the Austin
branch of the NAACP.
A shooting Monday in which officer Aaron
Bishop shot and wounded a man while police
were serving a search warrant on his home
was not recorded. Authorities have said
Felix Rosales, 72, fired on officers,
shooting one in the foot, before Bishop
returned at least one shot.
Nordstrom and Goodloe, who said they shot
and injured Reynaldo Gonzalez, 31, as he
tried to run over them during a feud between
Southeast Austin residents, eventually gave
a statement after seeing the tape. A Travis
County grand jury decided not to indict the
pair. An internal affairs investigation into
the shooting is on-going.
Whether investigators allow officers
involved in shootings to review videos — and
at what point in the investigation — is an
issue other agencies have confronted in
recent years, particularly as more of them
install patrol car cameras, said Thomas
Aveni, a co-founder of Police Policies
Studies Council, an educational organization
made up of police experts.
"If the video is incriminating, what
are you going to do?" Aveni said. "When
everything is said and done, the officer
still has to justify what he did, and I
don't see how showing the video before or
after is going to make a difference."
Dallas police officials said videos from
patrol car cameras typically aren't
available for several days after a shooting
and that officers give statements
Houston police officials said many of
their cars don't have video equipment, so
the matter hasn't been an issue.
In Austin, shootings were the only cases
in which officers were prohibited from
reviewing tapes before making statements.
Carter said officers are encouraged to
view tapes before they write reports on
anything from routine traffic stops to
use-of-force incidents. They can see the
tapes before speaking to internal affairs
investigators in any case. Internal affairs
detectives investigate whether officers
violated department policies by using deadly
Stribling, who represents most officers
involved in shootings, said that about two
years ago, he began advising clients to
withhold statements from homicide
investigators until they see their tapes.
Most make statements anyway, he said.
Stribling declined to say what prompted his
George Vanderhule, president of the
Austin Police Association, said the union
has supported the change for years.
The department "tells officers on other
incidents that they have a responsibility to
review tapes before they do reports,"
Vanderhule said. "So why would you not use
it in the most critical of all incidents?
"It's about making sure we can get the
most accurate information we can," he said.