Austin, TEXAS — Austin City Council on Thursday voted to approve a settlement with 15 women who alleged their sexual assault cases were mishandled by the Austin Police Department and the District Attorney’s office. The city issued a payment of $825,000 to the 15 women and will also apologize. An additional $50,000 is earmarked for the plaintiffs' attorneys.
The settlement comes following a 2018 lawsuit as well as a 2019 audit by the Texas Department of Public Safety that substantiated claims, indicating the police department had mishandled a number of rape cases.
Following the allegations, Austin has taken measures to change certain elements of its policies and procedures to make sure future cases are taken seriously. Since 2019, the city has spent nearly $3.5 million to enhance APD investigations of sexual assault, and has more funds ready to continue to make improvements.
“We have taken important steps to improve how law enforcement handles sexual assault reporting, processing, investigations, and prosecutions, and we are committed to continue improving,” said City Manager Spencer Cronk. “All survivors should feel safe, heard, and have confidence in every step of the process.”
Some improvements include:
- Creation of a soft interview room for survivors.
- Option to have third party sit in on interview.
- Option to have APD Victim Services counselors sit in on survivor interviews.
- Survivor notification protocol developed to better inform survivors of progress in their cases.
- Plans to introduce a voluntary survey for survivors to take at case closure to share their experiences with APD.
Changes made to improve the investigation of sexual assault causes have also been made:
- New protocol requiring APD to request a Victim Services Crisis Response Team to respond to sex crime calls at the same time that officers are assigned to the call.
- Creation of a Cold Case Unit to investigate historic sexual assault cases.
- Plans to create a staff position to enable tracking of data related to sexual assault investigations.
- Policies have been updated to reflect the new state law called the Lavinia Masters Act.
Chief Chacon provided an update on APD changes here.