AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge will wait until after the holidays to determine whether a sexual assault class action suit against the City of Austin and Travis County should move forward.
• Lawsuit first filed in June
• 8 women claim sexual assault cases were not fairly handled
Attorneys representing the defendants, the Austin Police Department and Travis County District Attorney’s Office, are seeking to dismiss the lawsuit over the agencies’ handling of sexual assault cases. The plaintiffs claim local law enforcement did not adequately investigate and prosecute their alleged attackers.
Inside a courtroom, the defendants’ counsel argued that the claims were vague and that plaintiffs have not met the burden of proof to show that constitutional rights were violated. The counsel believes the defendants acted with discretion, not discrimination.
The lawsuit, which was first filed in June, stems from the testimonies of eight women, who alleged employees of the Austin Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office did little to nothing to pursue sexual assault cases and unfairly prioritized other cases.
“APD and the DA’s Office both know that the current staffing is not sufficient to deal with the number of assaults that they’re dealing with on a yearly basis, they have the information to know what better staffing will look like and instead they defer resources elsewhere,” said Jennifer Ecklund, who represents the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs argue that the Austin Police Department and District Attorney’s Office staff member are not properly trained and perpetuate a culture of disbelieving survivors of sexual assault. They call out the county’s failure to properly test sexual assault kits or move forward with cases without that DNA evidence.
“At the end of the day, additional evidence is required. It’s never just the victims’ testimony. There’s other physical evidence, there’s circumstantial evidence that’s used by prosecutors. It’s simply can’t be enough to say, ‘That’s hard.’ Of course it’s hard. Cases are hard, but we try them because it’s important and it protects the public,” Ecklund said.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said because of the heavy volume of federal dockets and the complexity of the allegations, he will issue his order after January 1.
In a statement a City of Austin spokesperson said:
“We appreciate the Court allowing the parties to present argument in this important case and look forward to the Court’s decision in the New Year."
“The District Attorney’s Office has no comment on the hearing before Judge Yeakel this morning, other than to thank the Court for its attention to this matter,” said District Attorney Margaret Moore.