Two Officers Cleared In Jury Trial, Then Chief Fires Them Anyway
Austin, TX – The Austin Police Department (APD) fired two officers on Monday who were recently cleared of wrongdoing by a Travis County jury, and the police union is outraged.
A jury found Austin Police Officers Donald Petraitis and Robert Pfaff not guilty of tampering with physical evidence, tampering with government records, assault, official oppression, and abuse of official capacity in December of 2018, the Statesman reported.
Officer Pfaff was also exonerated on a perjury charge at the same time.
But that wasn’t good enough for Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. On Monday, he released the officers’ disciplinary memos and announced they had both been terminated.
Officers Petraitis and Pfaff faced trial for an incident that occurred in February of 2018, when the officers responded to a shooting scene near 12th and Red River Streets, KTBC reported.
There was a big crowd on hand, and the officers ordered the witnesses to get on the ground because they did not know who in the group had weapons.
Quentin Perkins, who later admitted he was high on PCP at the time, failed to comply with all of the officers’ commands and got Tased, KTBC reported.
Prosecutors argued that the officers had lied about the details of the incident to justify tasing Perkins.
They accused Officer Petraitis and Pfaff of excessive use-of-force for tasing Perkins while he was on his knees with his hands in the air, KVUE reported.
However, bodycam video from the scene showed that the officers had actually told Perkins to lay down and put his head on the ground and he had failed to comply with those orders.
But the version of events in police reports submitted by Officers Petraitis and Pfaff did not exactly match the incident as it unfolded on other officers’ bodycam videos from the scene, despite the officers knowledge that the incident was being recorded, the Statesman reported.
Defense attorneys argued that the memories and perception of the officers’ may have been affected by the stress they were under at the scene.
After the officers were cleared of their charges by a Travis County jury, they expected to be returned to duty.
However, the Austin PD determined that the officers' use of a Taser was "inappropriate, unnecessary, objectively unreasonable, and a violation of department policy,” KXAN reported.
The officers’ attorneys said they plan to appeal former Officers Petraitis and Pfaff’s terminations.
“We were hopeful that lessons had been learned from the evidence we presented in the criminal trial, particularly the scientific evidence regarding human perception from a tenured UT psychology professor, as well as the evidence we elicited from APD’s own training academy officers who instructed Officers Petraitis and Pfaff on Taser use,” attorneys for the officers, Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell, said in a statement, according to the Statesman.
The announcement that the officers had been fired came as the clock ran out on the latest deadline for the chief to determine the officers’ fate.
In the disciplinary memo he released, Chief Manley said that parts of the officers’ reports were “simply not true,” and he accused the officers of coordinating their stories as a coverup, the Statesman reported.
“But for the event being fortuitously captured on [a body camera], we would never know what actually happened to Mr. Perkins,” the chief wrote. “Mr. Perkins was not standing, was not looking towards the creek as if planning on trying to get away, and was not attempting to walk away when the decision was made to deploy the Taser.”
“I find it improbable that both officers came up with a similar version of events, which included things that did not happen ... as well as not recalling what actually did happen,” Chief Manley continued. “I have serious concerns that Officer Pfaff and Petraitis got their stories straight before they spoke with [a supervisor] and prepared their reports and the probable cause affidavit.”
He said he didn’t believe the officers’ story that they had misremembered because they were under stress, the Statesman reported.
“A claim that the officers were under such extreme stress that they suffered some type of memory lapse, amnesia, incorrectly perceived the events, or got the events out of sequence is without merit,” the chief wrote. “These are two senior officers with extensive experience and training.”
The Austin police officers’ union fired back at Chief Manley’s memo and said they were “sickened” by it, the Statesman reported.
“Plenty of science and research exists and is readily available on the topics of perception, attention, memory, sensory overload and a host of other reasons that people don’t remember situations the same way a camera can record them,” Union President Ken Casaday and Vice President Thomas Villarreal wrote in a combined statement. “This was information that was given at trial.”