More on Scott Henson and Austin Police

Friday, February 24th, 2012

A couple weeks ago I posted Scott Henson’s account of an incident in which he was confronted by police in Austin, Texas, after someone phoned in a possible kidnapping after apparently seeing Henson (who is white) playing with his granddaughter (who is black). The story went viral, and eventually made national news.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has since shot back, and released video which contradicts a couple parts of Henson’s story. He has also released an email exchange he had with Henson in which Henson asks him not to release the video. You can read Henson’s version of these developments here.

Henson has done some great work over the years on the issues I cover, and I can’t recall any other occasion in which his credibility has been seriously called into question. He says that in the heat of the moment, he misremembered a couple details (most notably, that a police officer pointed a Taser at him), which seems entirely plausible. He also misreported that a constable called in for backup after he told her the girl was his granddaughter. Given that Henson had been stopped and questioned once before while out with his granddaughter, it isn’t difficult to see why he’d be irritated when he was stopped again, then angry when confronted shortly thereafter by a swarm of Austin cops, and then perhaps inclined to remember a version the events that paints Austin PD in a worse light than was justified.

It seems like in the end, Austin PD handled the situation about as well as could be expected, and that at the same time, Henson was justified in being angry and frustrated at how he was treated. A man should be able to take a walk with his granddaughter without having to answer to a posse of cops. But Acevedo makes a good point as well. If Henson had kidnapped the girl and the department hadn’t thoroughly questioned him after receiving the tip, and then let him go, there would be quite an uproar. I guess we could blame the person who saw an older white man out with a young black girl and immediately assumed “kidnapping!” but it seems possible, even likely, that the tipster’s intent wasn’t malicious, either.

That said, Henson’s pleading with Acevedo to not release the videos that contradict Henson’s version of events is unfortunate. If we want police to release video that implicates cops, it’s unfair to ask them to sit on video that vindicates police officers accused of wrongdoing–or that at least supports their version of a disputed incident. Henson’s explanation for asking Acevedo not to release the video is understandable. He writes in the comments to the linked post above that once the story went viral, he began receiving racist comments and email, which include some explicit threats against his granddaughter and her mother. So he didn’t want video of the girl going public. I can sympathize with his position, although it seems like it would have been better if he’d asked them to blot out or conceal her identity in some way rather than asking that they not release the video at all. If I were in his position, and the video showed the cops had been lying, I’d certainly have wanted it to be released, but perhaps in a way that concealed the girl’s face.

In the end, the case illustrates the value of recording police interactions with the public. Video may not always reveal the whole truth, but it usually gets us closer to it. That’s important when holding misbehaving cops accountable. But it’s also important to help sort out disputed cases like this one, where video supports the police officers’ account of the incident.

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30 Responses to “More on Scott Henson and Austin Police”

  1. #1 |  (B)oscoH | 

    Transparency and sunlight solve many problems of fact. Timeliness is a key component of transparency. This information would have been more useful two weeks ago, and not just in response to an accusation of police misconduct. The information just needs to be available enough that someone like Radley or a member of the public could get to it as needed.

  2. #2 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    If you release a video of a child, you WILL release a video of a cop…and not use the lame excuse that you won’t out of concern for the cop’s safety.


  3. #3 |  Sorenzeo | 

    This whole incident wonderfully illustrates why it would be a great idea to have our police forces wearing head-mounted cameras during all interactions with the public. If we can’t hope to reform the culture in police forces, we can at least make sure they’re not able to lie with impunity, and at the same time ensure that officers can’t be smeared either.

  4. #4 |  M.A.DeLuca | 

    Saying that there’d be an uproar if they hadn’t investigated the man and his grand-daughter and it turned out she was a kidnap victim seems like a slippery-slope to me. Why don’t the police then question *every* adult in the company of a child, regardless of obvious ethnic differences? After all, if the cops don’t (hypothetically) stop me when I pick up my six-year-old from the bus stop, how could anyone be sure that I wasn’t a monstrous pedophile intercepting young boys for nefarious deeds?

    The problem is that no one saw a crime taking place. People lept to conclusions based on nothing more than racial characteristics of Gramps and his grand-daughter. I’m sure some busybody feels justified to come to rash conclusions, but the law shouldn’t be in the business of assuaging busybodies’ egos.

  5. #5 |  Scooby | 

    Acevedo tripped over himself releasing this video, in order to paint Henson as a liar over the mistaken fact of whether the tasers were out of the holsters or not, but hasn’t released any video from the January 1 incident with Antonio Buehler (you featured it here.

    Acevedo has been a better chief than most (real low bar)- he recently canned a cop and a supervisor for lying about striking a restrained arrestee- but he his first instinct is to protect that thin blue line.

  6. #6 |  Doug Walker | 

    This sucks. You’re being much more gracious to Henson than I’m inclined to be right now. You and many others reported on this incident with a particular perspective based on details that Henson either grossly exaggerated or just lied about. By doing so he opened the door for Acevedo to quite sympathetically release the video that contradicts Henson. For many, that will be the end of the story, and we’ve completely lost the opportunity to discuss the inherent inappropriateness of the police response. The bigger issue of unreasonable suspicion and detention of innocent people now evaporates in the heat of this “win” by law enforcement apologists.

    And this one won’t end here. You can bet that Malkin and Limbaugh and Coulter will trot this very high-profile national example out every time someone calls police behavior into question. Very disappointing.

  7. #7 |  MH | 

    @3, As Radley noted if the police receive a report and don’t investigate they are in hot water (not really of course — it seems like they aren’t held responsible for much of anything — but they could get some bad press).

  8. #8 |  Ken | 

    But Acevedo makes a good point as well. If Henson had kidnapped the girl and the department hadn’t thoroughly questioned him after receiving the tip, and then let him go, there would be quite an uproar.

    Ha!! This is the exact point that I made on the previous post that got everyone all outraged. Are all the commenters that disparaged me now going to disparage Radley for now saying that my point is a “good point”?

  9. #9 |  Charlie O | 

    I think the main point that was lost on nearly everyone who has criticized Henson over at GritsforBreakfast is the sheer number involved in the rollout to question Henson. Did it really take that many officers and units to question one man walking with his granddaughter. It could have easily been handled by a single officer not the overwhelming force that was used. No one over at Grits since to recognize that.

  10. #10 |  Bob Mc | 

    It still bothers me that cops can stop/detain/handcuff/harass people based on a call from some random about circumstances which, had the cop witnessed such circumstances personally, would not rise to the standard of reasonable suspicion that he normally needs to stop/detain/handcuff/harass people.

  11. #11 |  Babysitting While [Insert Race Here] « Fez Dispenser | 

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  12. #12 |  Doug Walker | 

    @Charlie O and Bob Mc: I agree with both of you completely, which compounds my frustration here. The discussion has moved away from the inappropriateness of the police response–detaining innocent people with a disproportionate show of force and no crime or reasonable suspicion. Now everyone is focused on Henson’s embellished recollection of events.

  13. #13 |  Michael Chaney | 


    So he didn’t want video of the girl going public. I can sympathize with his position, although it seems like it would have been better if he’d asked them to blot out or conceal her identity in some way rather than asking that they not release the video at all. If I were in his position, and the video showed the cops had been lying, I’d certainly have wanted it to be released, but perhaps in a way that concealed the girl’s face.

    The chief’s on it. From the linked story:

    Acevedo said Friday that he would release the video next week but the girl’s face won’t be shown .

  14. #14 |  Highway | 

    Another question is raised by this whole scenario. If the whole situation was initiated by a report of a possibly abducted child by someone at the rec center who saw Henson and his granddaughter, why wasn’t the ‘alarm’ called off when the first deputy was satisfied that it wasn’t a problem? Why was there any continuation?

  15. #15 |  Onlooker | 

    Very good point Doug. The coverage of this now seems to have completely glossed over the ridiculous show of force in the matter; from the number of cops to the handcuffing of an unarmed man in a non-violent situation, etc.

  16. #16 |  Dante | 

    My only question in this sad and sordid tale:

    “after someone phoned in a possible kidnapping after apparently seeing Henson (who is white) playing with his granddaughter ”

    Do you get in trouble for that? Seems to me the police have gone after people who make stuff up (when it suits them).

  17. #17 |  EH | 

    Obviously the police edited the video to make Henson look bad. That’s what they accuse us of doing, right?

  18. #18 |  Gritsforbreakfast | 

    Radley writes, “If Henson had kidnapped the girl and the department hadn’t thoroughly questioned him after receiving the tip, and then let him go, there would be quite an uproar.”

    You’ve taken the bait, amigo. Acevedo wants to pretend the issue is WHETHER police should have responded. The real question is “how” they should respond. As I wrote in my correction on this, “Basically two departments with overlapping jurisdictions responded to this complaint: One came at us based on a community policing approach where she walked up calmly, asked a few questions, and according to her report was satisfied and had begun to return to her shift until she heard on the radio APD was coming. By contrast, APD handcuffed first and asked questions later. That’s the big difference between the two departments’ approaches.”

    Also, I only “misremembered” one detail – that about the Taser. On the other correction, I basically made an unwarranted assumption that written documentation later debunked. The deputy constable – who I’d blamed at the scene, thinking she’d called in the cavalry – actually was the one who got it right. That juxtaposition in approach is the key point that’s being lost in the debate over an error (three words out of a 2,500 word essay) that I readily corrected when shown the video.

    It’s also worth mentioning that the Chief showed me the video on a Thursday and the next day I published a correction on both fact bites where the original post got it wrong. I did not hide from the errors, but owned them. I find it a bit disingenuous to call a writer who’s posted a correction of their own volition a “liar.” It was a mistake, not a lie.

    As for releasing the video, if it were only my call I’d probably agree with you, but I’m not the only one involved in making decisions about the best interests of the child. Anyway, they did release the video and with the exception of the three words about the taser – the officer’s hand was on it but it wasn’t pulled – it pretty much corroborates everything else I said. So at this point to me that’s a non-issue.


  19. #19 |  Chris Rhodes | 

    Having read what he was incorrect about in his description of the incident, I don’t see how it materially changes the facts of the incident.

    “You said the cops were beating you with a wooden baton for jaywalking, but the video clearly shows that they were beating you with a plastic-coated steel baton. Why would you lie like that? Why do you hate cops?”

  20. #20 |  Psion | 

    And cheers back at you, Gritsforbreakfast! You made trivial, honest mistakes while good chief Acevedo appears more interested in defending actions that ultimately terrorized a little girl. It seems Acevedo could learn a thing or two about community relations because his boys came at you and your granddaughter with the heavy hand of overwhelming force.

  21. #21 |  BamBam | 

    @4 bingo. Are we all to be monitored at all times and answer to police at every turn for any matter? The “what if” is such a weak position because there are infinite scenarios one can come up with.

    @5 I would bet money that the chief took his actions because he felt His Boyz were maligned and had their good reputation sullied, and would thus wield his power to harm the man. I doubt very highly that he took his actions simply to be transparent. If this were the case, then he’d have a long history of doing such things. Because this does not exist (otherwise we’d know about it and the cops would be dead for “ratting out” their Brothers in Blue), then it cannot be for transparent reasons.

  22. #22 |  JimBob | 

    What bugs me is that there was a peace officer who had ALREADY investigated the issue, and who had basically cleared him– and that officer was ON THE SCENE. The APD was aware that the deputy constable had responded (given the radio traffic), and the fact that Hansen wasn’t in handcuffs or otherwise being detained should have been reason enough for pause. At the very least, they should have checked with the deputy constable before handcuffing him and throwing his granddaughter in a squad car.

    Basically, the APD fucked up not just by initiating ridiculously over-the-top response, but also by ignoring the work already done by the deputy constable.

    Mr. Hansen, if you’re still reading this, I would urge you to PLEASE file an official complaint with Margo Frasier. I know the OPM isn’t what you campaigned for it to be (I’d like to see the office have more teeth, that’s for sure), but I think she would at least look into why the APD officers ignored the good police work that had already been done.

  23. #23 |  Reasonable | 

    Simply, this was all the fault of the 911 caller. It seems obvious the person saw Henson with his black grand-daughter, and then called police and told them it was a kidnapping. That was a lie and a false report. The caller, if worried, could have said “I saw an older white gentleman with a young black girl and am worried it could be a kidnapping.” If it had been worded like that, I’m sure the response would have been different. None the less, the police should not have swarmed him. It should not have been difficult to confirm their identities and the relationship between them. Take this one as a lesson learned, and move on, all involved.


  24. #24 |  htownlawman | 

    watch the full video yourself
    the cop were very professional

    Full Raw Dashcam video

  25. #25 |  Jerryskids | 

    the cop were very professional

    Yes they were. Professional hitmen behave professionally as well.

    My view? Multiple cops roll up in multiple vehicles and without so much as an “excuse me sir, may we talk to you for a minute?” immediately place a citizen in handcuffs. Had the guy attempted to protest or resist or even ask WTF, would the dashcam footage showing him attacking officers and then accidentally falling down and causing himself multiple contusions be mysteriously lost?

    Yes, I think the usual suspects on both sides will believe what they want regardless of the facts (I know that I am still going to believe cops guilty until proven innocent – cops should most emphatically be held to a different standard) nobody is going to change their opinions of cops based on this episode, but this is one more “isolated incident”.

    As someone pointed out – if this video is released as a matter of public record, why aren’t all videos a matter of public record? Do we only get to see the videos showing the cops side of the story? If so, doesn’t this simply prove that cops see themselves as being on one side and the general public as being the enemy?

  26. #26 |  Loretta Nall | 

    @24…that was not professional. When the little girl started screaming that Scot was her grandfather that should have been the end of it. The only kidnappers I see in the video are the cops. Scott didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve been in siyptuations with cos where the adrenaline is pumping and not every detail of what happen can be recalled with perfect clarity later. Not hard for me to understand how Scott thought a taser was pointed at him. He was man enough to admit his minor mistakes when the video was released. How often do cops do that?

    Scott…this episode has increased my already enormous respect for you. The police were wrong and you were right!

  27. #27 |  Loretta Nall | 

    siyptuations = situations

    cos = cops

    I hate the iPad keyboard.

  28. #28 |  Homeboy | 

    @ #8, Ken

    Yes, I will happily call out Radley’s comment as nonsense. If police had received a report of a White man kidnapping a young Black girl, who had apparently been able to resist her attacker after being grabbed and flee to the woods, it does not provide any legitimate impetus to stop and frisk a man peaceably strolling home in the company of his daughter. To suggest that cops may have a genuine motivation to avoid criticism for not harassing people in such a manner is no more reasonable than suggesting that they should be impelled by a fear of children singing the song, Nanny Goat. A report of a violent kidnapping does not equal justification for stopping, searching, and interrogating every person you see in the affectionate company of a child (who is too small to have escaped from her attacker in the manner described), regardless of what the race of the suspects may be. I am also wondering what became of the child who was really kidnapped, for if the 911 caller was acting in earnest instead of malice, her fate remains unresolved following a violent assault.

  29. #29 |  genes | 

    “Officers would not have had to stop Henson if he had identified himself and cooperated with the constable, Acevedo said”
    He did and so did the child. F*** Avocado and his whole fascist department.
    I’m white, live in SC and have had no problem with my black daughters or grandchildren. I have never had a single problem with racist, fascist kops.
    After viewing the video the kops at the scene should be charged with felony child abuse.

  30. #30 |  The Riviera Times | 

    The Riviera Times…

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