Misdirection All Around: Reporting on the Rocha Case

Note: the following article is true to the headline, because we (um, that’s just me mainly) contributed to the misdirection.  As it turns out, the Statesman reporter was dead correct.  The Austin Chief of Police did find fault with the officer’s use of force, ruling that if she had time to reposition herself before shooting Rocha, then she had time to check his hands to see if in fact he was holding a tazer.  See the full report in our downloads section.  And apologies to the Statesman.  Sometimes I should be a little more careful (as if you need to be told!)–gm

IndyMedia Austin

By Greg Moses

I wish the Austin American-Statesman would be a little more careful.

In today’s top story, an internal affairs
report from the Austin Police Department is said to have cleared the
officer who shot Daniel Rocha this past June. Says the Statesman,
the internal police review concluded that, "officer Julie Schroeder had
reason to think she was protecting herself and a sergeant when she shot
Rocha during a struggle June 9 in Southeast Austin." Yet, says
the paper, "Their conclusions contrast with those of Knee, the police
monitor and a citizens review panel, all of whom found that Schroeder
didn’t have to shoot Rocha. Knee fired Schroeder on Friday."

The problem with the paper’s intro is that it assumes the Chief and the
internal review panel are considering the very same issue, but that is
not likely to be the case. For the Chief to fire officer Schroeder on the basis of her use of
force, he would have to find something not found by the Travis County
Grand Jury who exonerated Schroeder from criminal charges earlier this
year. While it is possible that the Chief is taking this bold
route, I don’t think it’s very likely.

What’s more probable is that Knee’s decision is based on other issues of internal policy, besides use-of-force guidelines.

For instance, the Statesman in an earlier report on the recommendations
made by a ‘citizens panel’ to fire officer Schroeder, said:

It’s unclear what evidence the citizens panel reviewed
before making its decision or which policies they think the officers
violated. However, police officials said shortly after the shooting
that Schroeder and Doyle violated policy by not operating their patrol
car cameras during the incident. Doyle did not have a tape in his
camera; Schroeder has said she thought hers was functioning when it was
not.

These remarks suggest, as if the reporter doesn’t know for sure, that
violations of videotape policy might be the first place to look for
viable reasons to fire officer Schroeder and to discipline officer
Doyle.

If we follow this line of inquiry, then we would look to officer
Schroeder’s overall behavior as a police professional. The
so-called traffic stop on June 9 was an action completely under officer
Schroeder’s command and control, because it was in the context of an
undercover surveillance operation that officer Schroeder made the stop;
but a careful reading of affidavits about that night’s activities
suggest that officer Schroeder acted precipitously when she ordered the
traffic stop at that time and location.

Consider, for example the following statement by officer Doyle:

I had the mic in my hand and was preparing to advise over
the radio that the vehicle was turning right onto Pleasant Valley and
that I did not have a traffic violation yet. Before I could get out on
the radio I saw Officer Shroeder and officer Borton turning from south
bound Pleasant Valley to west bound Quick Silver. They pulled sort of
diagonally and to the front of the White SUV, but did not block the
vehicle. I believe officer Schroeder was driving and I noticed that the
Red and Blue emergency lights were activated. I knew we were on our
channel and that I need to switch to Frank radio to advise we were
making a traffic stop. I was also trying to get my emergency lights
activated.

In Doyle’s account of the traffic stop, we find him placed in a
position where he must now react to an impulsive traffic-stop maneuver
on the part of officer Schroeder. And from a police procedure point of
view, this was officer Schroeder’s grave mistake. She placed her
cohorts in the totally unnecessary position of having to scramble in
reaction to HER leadership during a surveillance operation that she was
directing. Here’s how Schroeder’s car partner officer Borton describes the setup:

I believe Officer Shroeder put our unit into reverse, onto
S. Pleasant Valley and decided to initiate a stop on the vehicle as it
stopped at the stop sign. Our emergency lights were activated and I
believe I advised Sgt. Doyle on channel 6B.

Quite consistent with officer Doyle’s account, Schroeder threw her
partners into a reactive operation when she impulsively called the
stop. As the plain reading of both affidavits suggests, the first
sign that officer Schroeder gave to her partners of an impending stop
was to throw her own car into reverse. If this is the picture
that chief Knee put together for himself, then he would have reason to
question officer Schroeder’s judgment as a police professional.
In other words, the question for Knee would not be ‘was officer
Schroeder justified in pulling the trigger’ but ‘did officer Schroeder
need to get herself in that position in the first place’.

In other words, if officer Schroeder did not have to shoot Daniel Rocha
on the night of June 9, 2005, it was because she did not have to put
herself in that position in the first place.

All I know is what I read, but to me the concern over officer
Schroeder’s professionalism seems a more likely concern on the part of
the Chief. If indeed this is the way things are going, we shall want to
ask some serious questions about the response of the police union to
Knee’s decision in this case. But at this point, from a citizen’s point
of view, we are only so far dealing with hypothetical logic.

NOTES:

—-Statesman Nov. 22, 2005

Austin police internal affairs detectives investigating the fatal
shooting of Daniel Rocha found that the officer who shot him did not
violate department policy on using lethal force, according to documents
released Monday.

In a 39-page summary sent to Police Chief Stan Knee in September,
investigators said officer Julie Schroeder had reason to think she was
protecting herself and a sergeant when she shot Rocha during a struggle
June 9 in Southeast Austin.

Their conclusions contrast with those of Knee, the police monitor and a
citizens review panel, all of whom found that Schroeder didn’t have to
shoot Rocha. Knee fired Schroeder on Friday.

–source:

Internal review: Rocha shooting broke no rules
Officer had reason to believe she and sergeant were in danger during struggle, report says. Tuesday, November 22, 2005

—————

—-Statesman Nov. 16, 2005

It’s unclear what evidence the citizens panel reviewed before making
its decision or which policies they think the officers violated.
However, police officials said shortly after the shooting that
Schroeder and Doyle violated policy by not operating their patrol car
cameras during the incident. Doyle did not have a tape in his camera;
Schroeder has said she thought hers was functioning when it was not.

–source:

Sources: Citizens group wants officer in Rocha shooting fired
Police union demands that city manager investigate who leaked panel’s decision.
By Tony Plohetski
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

————

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