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Texas police chief apologizes to black woman for officer's 'disturbing' comments

Texas police chief apologizes to black woman for officer's 'disturbing' comments
An image from police dashcam video shows officers in Austin, Texas, restraining Breaion King on June 15, 2015. (Austin Police Department)

The video shot from a police squad car captures a white police officer throwing a black woman to the ground during a routine traffic stop in Austin, Texas.

Later, another officer explains to the woman that black people tend to have "violent tendencies."

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On Thursday, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo apologized to the woman, a 26-year-old elementary school teacher named Breaion King, and condemned both officers' actions, calling the comments "disturbing."

"For those that think life is perfect for people of color, I want you to listen to that conversation and tell me we don't have social issues in this nation," said Acevedo, who is Latino. "Issues of bias. Issues of racism. Issues of people being looked at different because of their color."

The traffic stop happened in June 2015, but the video posted Thursday by the Austin American-Statesman triggered protests and the chief's blunt assessment of the incident.

Breaion King at a news conference in Austin on Friday.
Breaion King at a news conference in Austin on Friday. (Rodolfo Gonzalez / Austin American-Statesman)

The release of the video comes as cities across the U.S. are on edge following high-profile police shootings of black men by police in Baton Rouge, La., and Minneapolis and fatal ambushes of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Also on Thursday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner — who is black — released police body camera video of a fatal officer-involved shooting in his city to counter social media rumors and substantiate that 38-year-old Alva Braziel was armed when confronted by police.

Turner said he released the video because of "what is happening around the country and the tension that is in the atmosphere and the high emotions."

In Austin, Acevedo said a criminal investigation has been opened into the actions of Officer Bryan Richter, who arrested King for driving 15 mph over the speed limit. He said the Travis County district attorney is considering whether to present the case to a grand jury.

Both Richter and the other officer involved in the arrest, Patrick Spradlin, have been placed on desk duty pending internal investigations. Richter has been a police officer for six years, Spradlin for 15, Austin police said.

The first video captures Richter telling King to "stop resisting" as he orders her out of her car, then repeatedly throws her to the ground as he tries to place her under arrest in a Wendy's parking lot. Richter then orders King to put her hands behind her back while the two struggle.

In the second video, shot inside a squad car as King is being transported to jail, Spradlin can be heard talking to King about race.

"Why are so many people afraid of black people?" he said.

King said she was also trying to understand.

"I can give you a really good idea why it might be that way," Spradlin said. "Violent tendencies."

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The officer can be heard saying he does not blame white people for being afraid because of violence in the black community.

"Some of them, because of their appearance and whatnot, some of them are very intimidating," he said.

Acevedo said he was concerned that King did not file a complaint after the arrest and that he did not know about the traffic stop until this week.

"It makes you wonder if there's something else out there." Acevedo said.

The police chief said he has requested additional Justice Department training for his officers to avoid bias and profiling among the ranks. He said officials also plan to review cases involving charges of resisting arrest, public intoxication and "other arrests we think could be used improperly" by police. He said the department is already reviewing officers' use of force.

The chief said he reviewed the video Wednesday with African-American activists — whom he has supported in the past — as well as clergy and officials from the police union, and said they hope to "bridge the divide."

He asked officers to consider: "Am I treating somebody who's speeding to lunch like they just robbed a bank?"

"We all have biases," Acevedo said, and anyone who thinks otherwise, "is lying to themselves."

The Austin police union released a statement condemning the officer who made racial comments, but not the one who made the traffic stop.

"We view these two incidents as separate situations," wrote Anthony Nelson, vice president of the Austin Police Assn. "We understand the public's reaction to Officer Richter's response to resistance. Officer Spradlin's comments were wrong and not reflective of the values and beliefs of the men and women who serve this community."

He also noted that, "We recognize how incidents such as these can divide our city and cause mistrust. We have met with community stakeholders and begun a dialogue.  We hope that the conversation will lead to substantive changes that will help bridge that divide."

Fatima Mann, co-founder of the Austin Justice Coalition, was among the activists who met with the chief and union officials to review the video.

"There's a climate in America: Because the officers are afraid of uprisings, they want to make sure the activists are telling the community we're doing real work," she said.

Mann said it was "frustrating and aggravating" to see an officer "swinging around a small black woman as if she's a rag doll" and disturbing that supervisors failed to report the incident.

"How many people with a badge think like that? How many commanders see videos like that every day and just put it on the pile?" Mann said.

King has hired an attorney, but neither returned calls Friday.

"I've become fearful to live my life," King told the Statesman. "I would rather stay home. I've become afraid of the people who are supposed to protect me and take care of me."

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