AUSTIN: Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Police, City, and County Over Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases

PHOTO: Defendants in the dismissed lawsuit – Chief of Police, Brian Manley; City of Austin (Council Chambers); County Attorney, Margaret Moore.

By Sandra Harris

On February 10, federal judge Lee Yeakel dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of eight women claiming the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the Austin Police Department (APD), and City of Austin officials mishandled their sexual assault cases.

The class action civil rights lawsuit was filed in June 2018 against the City of Austin, Travis County, current Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, former Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, current Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, and former Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo.

A City of Austin report has found that the city had the highest number of rapes reported in large Texas cities in 2017. The now-dismissed lawsuit, which had the backing of local reformists and advocacy groups, claimed the defendants committed federal and state violations by refusing to implement or ignore proper training and supervision of government employees handling sexual assault cases, knowingly allocating resources to other violent crimes other than sexual assaults against female victims, and knowingly failing to submit or test sexual assault kits.

Plaintiffs asserted that they did not feel prioritized and that they were discriminated against based on gender when their cases were handled. They cited that only 1,000 women report sexual assault incidents to Austin police each year, with less than 10 cases making it to trial.

Ironically, Judge Yeakel declined to take up the lawsuit by pointing out the small reforms and policy changes achieved by advocacy groups in other venues. In his dismissal, he stated, “Intrusion by the court at this juncture would have an impermissibly disruptive effect on the recently enacted Texas laws related to sexual assaults, which the court finds to be a matter of substantial public concern.”

District Attorney Margaret Moore, who is up for re-election this year, said in a statement she was pleased with the ruling. Side-stepping her own role in upholding the farce of the bourgeois justice system, she went on to state, “There are systemic issues that existed long before I took office three years ago, but I am so happy we can move forward now to make Travis County a model of reform.”

Elected four years ago, Moore was celebrated as a reform candidate when she took over as Travis County DA. Now, the DA’s race has become a focus for the same reformist advocacy groups who supported the lawsuit to back candidates to oppose Moore. Confronted with the bourgeois legal system’s indifference to violence against women, their misdirected answer is to run another candidate who will be compelled to serve the ruling class.

Austin Police’s handling of sexual assaults has been wrought with mismanagement. Austin’s DNA lab closed in 2016 after an audit found its analysts weren’t following correct scientific procedures. Shortly thereafter, thousands of untested rape kits found in an APD storage facility, some that had remained untested since the 1990s, had developed mold outside of them. In 2018, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley claimed the rape kit backlog had been cleared.

This total neglect aligns with APD’s own record of sexual violence among its own ranks. APD employs abusers who beat women and molest their own children, such as in the cases of officers Jason Dusterhoft and Dustin Lee. Austin Police also ignored Veneranda Martinez-Gutierrez’s repeated pleas for protection from her abusive ex-husband who was stalking her. In December 2019, Veneranda, a working mother of three, was killed by her estranged husband at the Riverside gas station where she sold tamales.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were correct that violence they experienced was not being prioritized or addressed by the police and the justice system. However, prioritizing legal avenues, advocating for policy change, and pushing for elections obscures the underlying issue that the police and the city government do not serve working women, but exist to enforce the economic exploitation under imperialism, which benefits from sexist ideologies to subjugate women and make them a more exploitable part of the workforce.

Women as a whole will only find justice by fighting as part of the working class movement for socialist revolution. Reformism and electoralism have once again shown their limits in this outright dismissal of sexual assault survivors’ claims. This is why revolutionaries call to unleash the fury of women against bourgeois institutions at every level.