Art Acevedo

A man fired more than 100 shots at at least three buildings in downtown Austin on Friday morning — including the federal courthouse, the Mexican consulate and Austin Police Department headquarters — before he died of a gunshot wound, according to APD officials.

At a press conference Friday morning, APD Chief Art Acevedo said APD received a call saying shots had been fired in the downtown area at 2:22 a.m.

"That's a very busy time in downtown Austin — usually we're inundated with calls for service right after bar closing," Acevedo said.

Within the next 10 minutes, APD also received reports of shots fired at the federal courthouse, Mexican consulate, and APD headquarters, Acevedo said.

An APD sergeant, putting away some horses into their stable, saw the man and fired a single shot at him, and the man dropped to the ground, Acevedo said. The officer approached the man and noticed he had a "suspicious" vest that could possibly contain explosives or be a suicide-type vest, so a bomb squad was called in to search the area, Acevedo said.

According to Acevedo, officials also found "suspicious cylinders" inside the suspect's vehicle.

"Anytime you have cylinders like these where someone is attacking government facilities, you have to think about  possible explosive devices," Acevedo said.

APD also discovered evidence that showed the man had tried to use propane cylinders to try to ignite the Mexican consulate, Acevedo said. 

Both the man's vest and vehicle were later cleared by the bomb squad, but officials are still investigating whether the man was killed or took his own life, Acevedo said.

The officer will be placed on administrative leave with pay, Acevedo said.

Officials are still investigating the motive behind the incident, but, based on the man's targets, Acevedo said immigration issues may have played a role.

"When you look at the national debate about immigration, that certainly comes to mind," Acevedo said.

I-35 was closed for about four hours, and APD headquarters were evacuated, Acevedo said. According to Acevedo, APD does not think there is any further danger posed to anyone else at this time. 

The Austin Police Department launched a new bicycle safety campaign last week in an effort to decrease collisions between bicyclists and drivers in the city.

The initiative, known as WAVE, is a general safety campaign that encourages bicyclists and drivers to share the road and acknowledge each other with a passing wave. The Butler Brothers, an Austin-based branding firm, partnered with APD to advertise WAVE through a website, merchandise sales and the “WAVEMOBILE,” a car with the slogan “Roll nice” that will appear throughout the city. 

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Austin bicycle shop owners pledged to support the initiative, along with Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, who announced the new initiative at a press conference in front of City Hall on Wednesday. Acevedo said he thinks WAVE has the power to save lives, and he hopes people spread the movement by posting about it on social media.

“This campaign is about being kind,” Acevedo said. “Let’s judge people based on the way they act, but, most importantly, let’s all be part of the solution — not part of the problem.” 

Adam Butler, one of the co-creators of WAVE, said the initiative may seem simple, but he hopes it will help decrease tensions between cyclists and drivers in Austin. 

“If WAVE sounds overly simple, that’s the point,” Butler said. “Ninety percent of cyclists are also motorists. We’re all people trying to get somewhere. The infrastructure improvements needed to ease tension between cars and bikes can’t happen overnight, but you can wave at someone today.”

Butler said the cost of the initiative is underwritten by merchandise sales from advertising, and, as of now, there are no plans to advertise WAVE on campus.

“Campus is a pressurized space where everyone is in a hurry — cars and bikes,” Butler said. “It’s a microcosm of the city of Austin. So if everyone, including pedestrians, can connect for even a split second, it can make the overall movements on campus safer.”

According to Butler, the campaign came about partly because of increased pedestrian and cyclist accidents in Austin over the past couple of years. 

“Visibility is a big part of traffic safety, so it’s a very practical concept — be friendly, be visible and increase safety for all,” Butler said. “There have been double the pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the last couple of years here in Austin, according to the city stats, and increased density certainly plays a role [in that].” 

Plan II sophomore James Smith, who bikes around campus, said he wasn’t sure how much of an effect the initiative would have in increasing safety. 

“I think it’s a good idea to try and raise awareness, but I don’t think just waving at somebody is really going to prevent an accident or anything,” Smith said.

Austin’s current booking facility, the Blackwell-Thurman Justice Center, is located downtown in the Travis County Justice Complex. The Austin Police Department has proposed plans to build a new booking center in North Austin.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin Police Department has proposed plans for a new booking facility near Cameron Road that could save the city money and simplify the current booking process.

Brian Manley, Austin Police assistant chief, said citizens arrested in North Austin for minor offenses would go to the center for booking and processing, also known as magistration, and then either post bail or go to jail. Manley said serious offenders would still go to the Travis County Jail for long-term holding. 

“[Magistration] requires that a person arrested by a police officer is brought before a judge for the initial hearing, and it has to be done without delay,” Manley said. “In other words, within 48 hours, you have to either magistrate or release somebody, [so] this is an opportunity for a model that will free up officers’ time.”

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo initially proposed the new booking center at a meeting of the Austin City Council on Aug. 28. At the meeting, Acevedo said his officers spend an average of 58 minutes booking suspects at the Travis County Jail, and APD could eventually achieve a collective gain of 50,000 patrol hours per year by running its own magistration facility.

Acevedo said APD plans to renovate an existing building owned by the city for the new center. According to APD’s estimates, after 11 years of running the center, the city would save about $15 million, helping reduce the amount the city pays for officer overtime and to use the jail.

The facility is expected to cost $5.6 million and take 12-18 months to build. Members of the City Council raised concerns about where funding for the center would come from and whether the facility would fulfill the benefits proposed by APD.

UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said UTPD will follow its usual protocol when students are arrested. The closest booking facility to the University is currently at Travis County Jail.

“We will continue to conduct business as usual unless Travis County requests we do something different,” Posey said.

Manley said the new booking center would help increase efficiency and allow more officers to spend time on patrol.  

“We believe that we will see some budget savings, budgetary savings to the taxpayer and officer morale will be greatly increased,” Manley said. “The sooner that we can book somebody, get them magistrated and book them into a location, the sooner we can get our officers back to responding to the calls for service from people of the city of Austin.”

According to Manley, since APD pays around $6 million per year to use the Travis County Jail, the new facility would help cut down on costs. 

Manley said the city is still exploring sources of funding for the center, although Council Member Mike Martinez suggested using interest from bond sales as one potential source of funding. 

APD plans to collect public input and further study the plan before presenting it to the City Council for a final vote, Manley said.

In February, the UT community was collectively outraged when Austin police arrested a young woman after she jaywalked near campus. Amanda Jo Stephen — a petite 24-year-old with blonde pigtails who fits the very “definition of non-threatening,” as Texas Monthly put it — was jogging with earphones in, and couldn’t hear the officers when they yelled at her to stop. An officer then startled Stephen by grabbing her arm, and before long she was pinned to the ground and in handcuffs. Four other officers quickly arrived on the scene, shoved the young woman into the back of a cop car and hauled her off to the Travis County Jail, where she was booked for “failure to identify” and “failure to obey a pedestrian control device.”

The public outcry over Stephen’s arrest was swift and severe, and APD chief Art Acevedo’s response to the controversy was widely criticized. But while many people were surprised and shocked by what happened, I wasn’t.

In many ways, I am Amanda Jo Stephen. I am a 22-year-old UT student with (hopefully) a bright future ahead of me, and no criminal record behind me — that is, until I was arrested last September for “interference with public duties.” And just as in Stephen’s case, I committed no arrestable offense until my interaction with the police. I was at an apartment party in a small Texas college town, celebrating my girlfriend’s 21st birthday, when the cops came knocking at the door to investigate a noise complaint. At the time, I had just finished a summer internship with the ACLU, so I had Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure rights fresh on my mind: I refused to let the cops in without a search warrant. And as you might expect, the officers did not take too kindly to a smug lecture from a pain-in-the-ass wannabe law student. Things quickly escalated into a shouting match, and before I knew it, I too found myself in the back of a cop car and on my way to jail.

All that’s to say, this isn’t just about what happened to Stephen; her arrest for giving the cops a hard time was hardly an isolated incident.

Admittedly, I was a jerk to those cops. I’m not trying to condone disrespecting the police, as it’s clear that Stephen was doing — the video of the Stephen incident showed her kicking, screaming and dropping f-bombs as the officers struggled to place her under arrest. Some people are even suggesting that Stephen deliberately jaywalked in front of the cops in protest of an APD “pedestrian enforcement” sting, and Acevedo claimed that she “did the limp routine” just to be difficult. But while we need to treat police officers with respect — at least I learned a valuable lesson through the ordeal — we should be skeptical of these kinds of arrests. Her story and mine are both poignant instances of young people thrown into the criminal justice system simply because they took an attitude when interacting with a police officer. And as both stories seem to illustrate, if you piss off a cop, you could likely find yourself in jail, facing misdemeanor charges that will follow you for the rest of your life.

Although the media often reports on these types of arrests, there is seldom any coverage of the subsequent process of bonding out of jail, facing prosecution, plea-bargaining, paying fines, being on probation and then dealing with the consequences of having a criminal record — no matter how minor — for life. Local newspapers covered my incident, and despite my case being disposed — and my record soon to be wiped clean — those articles will be online and freely available to any potential employers for all of googleable eternity.

A low-level misdemeanor like “failure to identify” or “interference with public duties” can cost thousands of dollars and take a huge toll on a young person and her family through court costs, fines, attorney fees and lost job opportunities, among the many other disadvantages that come with having a criminal record. Is it right to do this to someone who hasn’t truly committed a crime other than disrespecting an officer?

According to Acevedo, Stephen was arrested and charged not because she jaywalked, but because she refused to identify herself or cooperate with the officer who detained her for crossing the street against the light. And while there is a statue on the books that makes it a crime to refuse to give your name to a cop if you’re under arrest, we need to think long and hard about spending resources on this type of policing. Officers should have — and indeed do have — discretion in making arrests, and they should exercise it to enforce more than just the strict “letter of the law.” Is it necessary to toss young people like Stephen or myself into an arguably broken judicial system that is already fraught with problems? The criminal justice system is entirely overburdened by low-level misdemeanor cases, so we need to be careful with what scarce resources we have; arresting young people for “contempt of cop” hardly constitutes a good use of those resources.

Ultimately, controversies like these only hurt relations between police and the public that officers are sworn to protect. And as Austin continues to grow — according to Forbes, it is the fastest-growing city in America — crime and safety will continue to be a pressing concern. APD needs to focus its efforts in the right places, not on protecting officers’ egos by arresting disrespectful jaywalkers. Police should learn from the public outcry over what happened in February and work to foster a better relationship with the public — which includes exercising the discretion to not arrest young people without due cause.

—30—

Nikolaides started at the Texan in the spring of 2013. He spent two semesters working as an opinion columnist and served this semester as an associate editor.

Austin Police Department Police Chief Art Acevedo called for a group of public transportation, law enforcement and criminal justice officials to discuss ways to reduce DWI incidents after a drunk driver killed a pedestrian in South Austin on Saturday, according to police. 

In a press conference Monday, Acevedo said the department has reported 22 fatal crashes this year, 12 of which involved alcohol or other drugs.

“As we continue to have more bars in our city, we continue to be the No. 1 drinking city in the state of Texas, despite the fact that we are not the largest city in the state of Texas,” Acevedo said. “I’m calling for the state, the county, the city and all of our partners in transportation and in criminal justice to come together and talk about how we can do better.”

Acevedo said the city needs to explore new and improved modes of transportation, including expanded bus routes, additional taxis and overnight parking.

Acevedo said he believes people who are arrested for DWI are often treated too leniently.

“If you look around Austin, Texas, and you see how many people are killing people drunk driving, they get probation and slaps on the wrist,” Acevedo said. “Enough is enough.”

Acevedo said he hopes to hold the summit during the first two weeks of May.

Austin police have filed 20 charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against 21-year old Rashad Charjuan Owens, who is accused of driving his car into a crowd at South by Southwest, an incident which resulted in four deaths.

Though Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the police would charge Owens with aggravated assault immediately following the March 13 crash, those charges were not filed until Tuesday. Owens was charged with capital murder, defined in Texas as the death of two or more people, hours after the crash.

Each of the 20 aggravated assault charges carry a bond of of $100,000, in addition to Owens’ $3 million bond charge for capital murder.

Owens will appear in court on April 9.

 

One of the 23 victims injured in the South By Southwest crash is still in critical condition at University Medical Center Brackenridge, according to spokeswoman Kendra Clawson.

DeAndre Tatum, 18, was among eight victims transported to UMC Brackenridge after a drunk driver sped through a crowd of people outside The Mohawk during SXSW.

Tatum’s condition has not changed since the incident occurred on March 13, Clawson said.

Two other victims, Mason Endres, 18, and Evan West, 29, have been moved to in-patient rehabilitation facilities. Joseph McCraney, 26, was released Saturday.

After the crash, 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr and 27-year-old Jamie West were pronounced dead at the scene, while a third victim, Sandy Le, died five days later. All other victims have since been released from the hospital.

Police have charged 21-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens with two counts of capital murder. In a press conference the day after the crash, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the department also planned to charge Owens with counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. No additional charges have been filed.

Owens is currently in Travis County Jail, and his bond has been set at $3 million. His first court appearance is scheduled for April 9.

APD Police Chief Art Acevedo at a press conference Thursday morning addressing the car incident from the night before that left two people dead and 23 injured at the intersection of Red River and 9th streets amid SXSW activities.

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

Updated (Friday, 7:15 p.m.): Travis County district judges issued a formal arrest warrant Friday afternoon for 21-year old Rashad Charjuan Owens, who has been accused of driving his car through a crowded area of downtown during SXSW activities, killing two people and injuring 23 others. Owens was charged with one count of capital murder and bond has been set at $3 million.


The booking photo of Rashad Charjuan Owens, who was formally charged with capital murder Friday afternoon. Courtesy of Austin Police Department.

Initially, APD Police Chief Art Acevedo said Owens would be charged with two counts of capital murder, which is a felony, and multiple counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. So far, no other charges have been filed.

Earlier Friday, police officers released a statement clarifying that in Texas, capital murder is defined as two or more deaths in the same “criminal transaction.”

According to the police affidavit, Owens attempted to evade police because there were other warrants out for his arrest.

“Owens … said that he got scared because he has warrants and didn’t want to go to jail for 5 years for something he didn’t do,” the affidavit said. “Owens said that he has Kidnapping warrants and explained that he was part of a custody battle for his daughter.”

The affidavit describes a violent, chaotic crime scene.

“Victims were reported to have been flying everywhere as they were being struck by the Honda,” the affidavit said.

Updated (Thursday, 8:52 p.m.): Christopher Ziebell, emergency department director of University Medical Center-Brackenridge, said Thursday night that he was concerned about the recovery prospects for the most critically injured victims of the SXSW crash.

“The two most critical patients, I have a great deal of concern and worry about,” Ziebell said at a press conference. “We’re going to do our best for them, but these are some of the worst injuries that we see, and not everybody with these kind of injuries is going to survive.”

Seven of the 23 people injured in the crash were taken to the medical center from the scene. An eighth person came to Brackenridge from another hospital after the person's injuries proved more serious than doctors initially realized, Ziebell said.

The two individuals who died were 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr and 27-year-old Jamie Ranae West. West's husband, Evan West, is among those who were injured and transported to the hospital.

Earlier Thursday afternoon, Reverends Katie Wright and Bob Gribble of St. David’s Episcopal Church hosted a vigil for the crash victims, with about 30 people in attendance.


A woman attends a vigil held for the SXSW crash victims at St. David's Episcopal Church on Thursday. Photo by Shweta Gulati / Daily Texan Staff

Michelle Marshall, a SXSW attendee from Austin, said she was disturbed by the unexpected crash.

“I come every year and this accident just kind of put a damper on the whole weekend — I felt like I needed to pay my respects,” Marshall said. “There’s just a very reverent feeling in town now.”

In an address, Wright said she hopes the community can reflect on the tragedy, while also appreciate the positive aspects of the festival.

“Let us remember those who have died, and let God accept our prayers on behalf of the servants who died last night,” Wright said. “Let us remember these artists and patrons, as well as our city.”

Updated (Thursday, 1:40 p.m.): Austin police officials have named 21-year old Rashad Charjuan Owens as the driver who allegedly struck more than 20 individuals, killing two, with his car while speeding down Red River Street at SXSW after midnight on Thursday. Owens was charged with two charges of capital murder by terroristic threat, a felony-level offense, and multiple counts of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle. Owens was processed at Travis County Jail at 5:44 a.m. No bond has been set.

While many SXSW activities will continue, St. David's Episcopal Church at 301 E. Eighth Street will host an open prayer service for the victims at 5:30 p.m. 

The car incident killed two people and injured 23. One of the victims who died was 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr, a creative director for the international branding and promotion company, MassiveMusic. The identity of the woman who died has not been revealed by the police.

The Mohawk, which is located right by where the incident took place, has canceled all of its afternoon events though it has not announced a plan for the evening events. APD will also be closing Eighth and Ninth streets from the I-35 frontage road to Neches Street at 5 p.m, though access to the frontage road will not be affected.

International relations sophomore Rush Evans, who was inside The Mohawk at the time of the crash, said the events were barely noticeable from inside the venue.

“No one seemed to notice that anything weird was happening,” Evans said. “Everyone was just going on their way having a good time.”

Evans said his view from the balcony allowed him to watch the first responders react to the scene.

“It literally looked like something just pulled through there and moved everyone out of the street,” Evans said. “People were lying on the sidewalks almost exclusively. It was pretty disturbing to see a little blood.”

Evans, who is a native of Austin, said he did not anticipate such a serious incident would happen at the festival. He said he was shaken by his proximity to the crash.

“If I had gotten there 5 minutes later, it could have been me,” Evans said. “I would have been in that line the car plowed through.”

Earlier Thursday, Fort Hood soldier Andrew Barmwell filed a police report for a stolen vehicle with the Killeen Police Department, according to Chris Haug, media relations chief at Fort Hood. Haug said Barmwell believes his stolen car, a gray Honda Civic, may be the one used in the crash. Barmwell was not available for comment.

Updated (Thursday, 11:50 a.m.): MassiveMusic, an international music branding and promotion company, identified 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr as the man who was killed in the car incident. Craenmehr worked as the creative director for the Amsterdam, Netherlands-based company.

"During the eight years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter," the company released in a statement on its website. "This is an irreplaceable loss for the MassiveMusic family and we are grateful for the years we spent with him."

Updated (Thursday, 11:26 a.m.): At a press conference Thursday, SXSW managing director Roland Swenson said SXSW operations would not be affected by the early-morning car crash that resulted in two deaths and more than 20 injured pedestrians.

“As much as we would just like to go home and spend time absorbing the shock of this horrific event, we feel our best use is to continue operating today,” Swenson said.

APD police chief Art Acevedo said the police originally incorrectly reported the identities of the deceased people. Though the suspected driver struck a man and a woman on a moped, only the woman, who Acevedo said was from Austin, died.

“The male driver is actually stable and in good condition,” Acevedo said.

A SXSW visitor from the Netherlands whose name has not been released was the other fatality, Acevedo said. The man from the Netherlands was on his bike at the time of the crash.

Of the five patients originally reported as being in critical conditions, at least two are still critical, while the other three patients are in surgery or being evaluated, according to James Shamard, chief of staff for Austin-Travis County EMS.

Acevedo and other city officials, including Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, praised the efficiency of the first responders to the scene.

“I want to acknowledge the excellent performance of our first responders,” Leffingwell said. “There were about 25 people involved, and the incident was cleared from the street in less than 15 minutes.”

Leffingwell said city officials do everything they can to promote the safety of SXSW attendees.

“SXSW is a long-time event, 27 years, and this is the first time in 27 years we’ve had an incident of this kind,” Leffingwell said. “We will continually evaluate our events to make sure they’re as safe as they can possibly be.”

Daytime events will go on as planned, while planners at Mohawk Bar and Cheer Up Charlie’s, where the crash occurred, are still determining the best course of action, Swenson said.


SXSW managing director Ronald Swenson tells the media on Thursday morning that most SXSW operations will continue as planned. Photo by Shweta Gulati / Daily Texan Staff

Original story: At least two people died and more than 20 were injured after a car ran through the intersection of 9th Street and Red River Street during South By Southwest just past midnight on Thursday, according to the Austin Police Department.

The incident took place right outside The Mohawk, a bar and live music venue.

At 2:15 a.m., APD reported that it had apprehended the suspect driving the car by tasing the driver. The driver, who has not been publicly identified, struck multiple people, as well as a taxi cab. A man and a woman who were riding a moped were pronounced dead on the scene. In total, there were 23 victims, five of whom were in critical condition. APD Police Chief Art Acevedo said the driver will be charged with two counts of capital murder, as well as 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

“You cannot stop a person that decides rather than face potential drunk driving charges, at a high rate of speed, shows total disregard for human life,” Acevedo said. “That’s why we will be charging two counts of capital murder.”

In a joint press conference, Acevedo and Harry Evans, Austin Fire Department chief of staff, said the incident began when an APD officer initiated a traffic stop outside the Shell Gas Station on the intersection of I-35 and 9th streets. The driver weaved through the gas station lot and accelerated against the flow of traffic on 9th Street. When APD officers tried to overtake the vehicle, the driver took a right turn down Red River Street at a “high rate of speed,” Acevedo said.


APD Police Chief Art Acevedo addresses the media around 2:20 a.m. Thursday. Photo by Shelby Tauber / Daily Texan Staff.

“The gas station, as you can imagine with all the activities around, was very busy,” Acevedo said. “He was in a smaller vehicle, he was able to weave his way through.”

Acevedo said the driver drove through police-patrolled barricades to speed through Red River Street.

“We had an Austin police officer in uniform working barricade patrol, and he was forced to move out of the way to avoid being struck himself,” Acevedo said. “The suspect driver then accelerated down Red River Street, and at a high rate of speed struck multiple pedestrians.”

Acevedo said the chase ended after the driver crashed at the northwest corner of 11th and Red River streets.

“[He crashed] into a parked van, and then he exited the vehicle and attempted to flee on foot,” Acevedo said. “The officer was able to overtake him on foot, and was actually forced to tase him to take him into custody.” 

Mike Benavides, Travis County Emergency Medical Services spokesman, said EMS worked with 25 patients, including five who were in critical condition. Benavides said those five people had been transported off the scene within 15 minutes.

Benavides said Travis County EMS were prepared and had resources dedicated to SXSW patrol.

"This traffic management plan is a plan that has worked for years," Benavides said.

The area between the I-35 access road and Neches Street, and stretching from 10th to 11th Street, will be closed for most of Thursday.

Acevedo said the incident was unlike anything he had seen before as police chief.


A blocked off portion of the street following in the incident taken around 1 a.m. on Thursday. Photo by Cameron Peterson / Daily Texan Staff

“Nothing like this has happened at SXSW in the seven years [I’ve] been chief officer,” Acevedo said.

Computer science senior Calvin Lau was lined up at The Mohawk to watch rapper Tyler the Creator perform. Lau saw the police cars and witnessed some of the aftermath of the incident.

"It really just came out of left field for me," Lau said. "I didn't hear of anything like this happening before. I don't think anybody saw that coming."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the nationality of the man who died in the incident. The man is from the Netherlands.

Justin Atkinson, Lauren L'Amie, Jordan Rudner, Shabab Siddiqui and Hannah Smothers contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Chris Quintero | Daily Texan Contributor

Last Thursday at 10:45 a.m., a 24-year-old woman named Amanda Jo Stephen was arrested at the intersection of 24th and San Antonio streets for, as she screamed during her arrest, “crossing the street.” The actual reason for the arrest was more complicated — Stephen was formally charged with “failure to identify” and “failure to obey a pedestrian control device” and was approached by the police as part of an APD effort to reduce traffic violations by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Stephen, who had her headphones in and was jogging at the time of the event, did not respond to the officer attempting to get her attention. The officer, in response, grabbed her by the arm. Once arrested, Stephen began to yell and attempt to stand up. The cops, meanwhile, kept her pinned to the ground. 

Stephen continued to yell, refused to identify herself and was arrested and placed into a nearby police cruiser. A video of the event quickly went viral. The public reaction to the incident was swift, negative and complex, with people upset about the roughness of the cops, helplessness of the arrestee and absurdity of the charge. 

The response by Police Chief Art Acevedo, in contrast, was as simple-minded as it gets. 

“In other cities there’s cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas,” Acevedo said in a press conference about the arrest Thursday. 

Acevedo has since apologized for his comments, or at least for using what he described as “a poor analogy” that “attempted to place the arrest into context.” But his initial response to the public outrage at the treatment of Stephen betrays a dangerous willingness to ignore both public opinion and an unnecessary invasion of a woman’s rights. Acevedo, disturbingly, has yet to address his many other alarming comments about the event. 

Initially, Acevedo didn’t just give the officers involved credit for not sexually assaulting the citizen they were arresting. He also openly stated that he would have been less lenient with the woman had he been the arresting officer. 

“Quite frankly, she wasn’t charged with resisting, and she was lucky I wasn’t the arresting officer because I wouldn’t have been quite as generous,” Acevedo said. 

Why Acevedo would congratulate his officers for refraining from sexually assaulting someone while simultaneously saying that he would have been less lenient is beyond our comprehension. Then again, Acevedo said himself that he is unconcerned with the public’s opinion of his officers. 

“I’d rather have everybody angry at me and my officers than to see a young person lose their life needlessly,” Acevedo said, referring to the 96 pedestrian fatalities that have occurred in Austin in the last five years. 

We, for one, would rather see a police department that’s interested in fostering public awareness of safety issues through a mechanism other than instilling fear in the people they’re supposed to assist.

It’s true that by not offering her name once detained, Stephen violated the “letter of the law,” and the officers were within their right to enforce the rules.

But officers should have the discretion to enforce the spirit of the law, not just the strict text of it. Stephen, likely, posed no threat to public safety, and, because she failed to treat a police officer with the decorum that he considered necessary, she was arrested and is now being thrown into the criminal justice system. Acevedo only hurt the situation, and the public’s trust in the police, by making comments that were overly aggressive, overly deferential to the arresting officers and completely unwilling to consider the possibility that the arrest may have been inappropriate. Acevedo has issued his apology, and Stephen has been released from jail. But APD has a long way to go before it can regain the public’s trust. For that to happen, Acevedo must learn to treat public concerns as more than frustrated citizens to be cuffed and quieted.

Photo Credit: Chris Quintero | Daily Texan Contributor

Updated (8:35 p.m. Saturday): Austin police chief Art Acevedo apologized for a comment he made during a press conference regarding the arrest of Amanda Jo Stephen, who was arrested Thursday after crossing the intersection of 24th and San Antonio streets.

In the press conference Friday, Acevedo said the public had overreacted to the incident.

"In other cities there's cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas," Acevedo said.

Acevedo said his comments were the result of a strenuous week for the department.   

"I attempted to place the arrest into context by bringing attention to the fact that law enforcement deals with many acts of serious misconduct," Acevedo said. "In hindsight I believe the comparison was a poor analogy, and for this I apologize."

Updated (6:45 p.m. Friday): At a press conference held Friday, APD police chief Art Acevedo addressed the recent arrest of 24-year-old Amanda Jo Stephen, who was taken into custody Thursday after crossing an intersection at a red light. Stephen was formally charged with “failure to identify” and “failure to obey a pedestrian control device” and was released from Travis County Central Booking Thursday evening.

Acevedo said the arrest occured in the midst of a West/North Campus traffic initiative which began Feb. 1. Acevedo said the initiative’s purpose is to reduce the number of traffic violations made by drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.

According to Acevedo, 28 pedestrians were stopped and seven citations were issued specifically for disregarding pedestrian control devices Thursday.

“Our goal is to change behavior, and not necessarily to write tickets or take people to jail,” Acevedo said. “This week, we’re actually focusing on pedestrian violations. The initiative will continue for some upcoming weeks, utilizing the resources of district representatives.”

According to Acevedo, there have been 96 deaths related to pedestrian-involved incidents and 1,757 pedestrians injured in traffic crashes in in the past five years.

“I’d rather have everybody angry at me and my officers, then to see a young person lose their life needlessly,” Acevedo said. “I’d rather be up here talking about this, than going to our 97th fatality involving a pedestrian or 1800th injury involving a pedestrian.”

When arresting Stephen, officers took the appropriate actions, Acevedo said.

“I don’t buy that you can’t hear an officer yelling at you to stop,” Acevedo said. “I’ll give the benefit of the doubt initially, but when the officer is right by you and can see the hat and he’s looking at your face, you should be able to know what’s going on.”

Acevedo said Stephen disregarded the officer’s lawful request for her to identify herself and verbally resisted the arrest.

“All that young lady had to do when she was asked for her information was to provide it by law, “ Acevedo said. “Instead of doing that, she decided to throw [herself] to the ground – officers didn’t sit her down – and she did the limp routine.”

According to Acevedo, Stephen was handcuffed after telling the officer not to touch her. Acevedo said the public outcry following the arrest did not faze him.

“Thank you lord that it’s a controversy in Austin, Texas that we actually have the audacity to touch somebody by the arm and tell them ‘oh my goodness, Austin Police, we’re trying to get your attention,’” Acevedo said. “Quite frankly, she wasn’t charged with resisting, and she was lucky I wasn’t the arresting officer because I wouldn’t have been quite as generous.”

Original Story (Thursday): City police officers arrested a woman around 10:45 a.m. Thursday for failing to provide identification after she was stopped near the intersection of 24th and San Antonio, outside Big Bite Pizza and Grill.

Advertising senior Chris Quintero, who witnessed the arrest, said Austin Police Department officers were working at the intersection when the woman jogged across the block.

“I was sitting at the Starbucks at 24th and San Antonio,” Quintero said. “Then I hear a cop shout at an innocent girl jogging through West Campus with her headphones on.”

When the woman did not stop, the officer grabbed her by the arm and quickly placed her in handcuffs, Quintero said.

“She repeatedly pleaded with them, saying that she was just exercising and to let her go,” Quintero said.

In footage of the incident that Quintero filmed, the woman can be seen attempting to get up from the ground and being kept down by police officers. 

“I was doing nothing wrong,” the woman said from her position sitting on the sidewalk. “I was crossing the street.” 

When police escorted the woman into the police car, she began shouting and eventually shrieking unintelligibly. 

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “I didn’t fucking do anything wrong. I just crossed the street.”

Quintero said two additional officers on bicycles arrived on the scene to assist with the arrest. In footage, the officers can be seen working together to secure the woman in the back of the police car.  According to APD spokeswoman Lisa Cortinas, APD officers do not target jaywalking specifically, instead they focus on pedestrian and bike safety overall. 

“District representatives were working pedestrian enforcement at 24th Street and Guadalupe,” Cortinas said. “[In this case], the call is titled failure to identify.”

APD spokeswoman Veneza Bremner said as far as she was aware, there was no concerted effort Thursday to ticket jaywalkers.

“I don’t think there’s any initiative going on out there, but [APD officers] can go write tickets whenever they see a problem out there,” Bremner said.

Bremner said officers occasionally patrol the area even when they have not been called to address a specific crime. 

“I’m not sure how often they do it, but I do know that they’re out there every now and then doing that,” Bremner said. “Whenever the call load allows, they’re proactively out there.”