A former Austin police officer, now living in California, has filed a lawsuit alleging that City of Houston failed to disclose public records regarding its search for the city’s next police chief.
Last week, Jermaine Hopkins filed the suit in Travis County against Mayor Sylvester Turner, his Communications and Policy Director Janice Evans, incoming police chief Art Acevedo, and the City of Houston.
He’s asking the court to, “compel the Defendants Turner and the City of Houston to release the information requested by Hopkins and/or make the information available for public inspection.”
Hopkins claims that in 2015, when Acevedo applied for theSan Antonio police chief position, he along with other citizens notified the city of their concerns about Acevedo’s fitness for the position. After the city chose another candidate, Hopkins says Acevedo attempted to have him prosecuted and filed a formal Internal Affairs complaint with the employer of one of the other complaining citizens.
In April of 2016, Austin’s CBS affiliate reported on Acevedo being considered for Houston’s next chief, and after seeing this Hopkins emailed both Turner and Acevedo. He says that the two “conspired to keep [Acevedo’s] application and candidacy for the police chief position concealed from the public and out of the public debate arena.”
Following that email, Hopkins filed a formal open records request for digital copies of Turner’s government records, as well as Acevedo’s written and electronic communications regarding his candidacy. Two months later he filed another open records request for communications with Russell Reynolds Associates pertaining to the search.
Restore Justice USA also requested information regarding the candidates that were being vetted for the post. During the process we were told that Russell Reynolds Associates was conducting the search for free and since taxpayers weren’t paying for it, their records didn’t fall under the realm of public information.
Hopkins has a rocky past with the Austin Police Department, being fired in October 2014 for what APD said was “insubordinate, and harassing behavior.” After being fired he then sued the City of Austin and City Manager Marc Ott. He also filed a complaint with the Austin Ethics Commission regarding the timeliness of Acevedo’s filing of a personal financial statement. The commission ruled in Hopkins’ favor.
Regardless of Hopkins’ history with Acevedo, he is correct on one point, that the search process should have been more transparent.
The secrecy surrounding the process was a departure from the way Turner’s predecessor operated. During Annise Parker’s police chief search, she released the applications of twenty-six candidates being vetted, albeit after an initial public information request. If the city was confident in their selection and the process, why shroud it in secrecy from the taxpayers?
We reached out to the city for a response but they declined to comment.