City releases requested pursuit video

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

After multiple requests and a 127-day delay, the City of Liberty Hill released police body camera footage from Officer Jeff Farmer during a high-speed chase on Oct. 4, 2018, where Mayor Rick Hall was on a ride along.

The body camera footage, as well as released patrol vehicle dash camera video, confirms allegations that Hall accessed the in-vehicle computer system during the incident, but does not show any angry outbursts by Hall.

At the end of the body cam video, which is 4 minutes and 31 seconds long, Hall can be heard speaking.

“Is there nobody else around?” Hall asked, before saying, “Not anybody from Travis County? It’s crazy. I can’t believe there was nobody else out.”

But the video cuts off when Farmer is in mid-sentence, ending abruptly before the time Campbell believes Hall got angry.

“I don’t recall the video ending that abruptly, in the middle of the Mayor’s conversation and Officer Farmer talking on the radio,” Campbell said. “There was more conversation from the Mayor to Officer Farmer. Something doesn’t seem like it is the full video to me.”

The newspaper, through its legal counsel, told City Attorney Tad Cleaves Wednesday about Campbell’s claim that the video provided was cut short. Cleaves responded that he would inquire again of Lt. Jeff Ringstaff to confirm whether all of the body camera footage of the incident was provided to the newspaper. Cleaves had not responded by press time Wednesday evening.

When asked about specifics of what Campbell believed had been cut off at the end of the video, he chose not to respond on the advice of his attorney due to pending legal action.

“My attorney advised me to any specific language or details to defer you guys to the criminal complaint filed with the District Attorney’s office back in March, which includes that incident and others,” Campbell said, adding that he has not heard a status on that complaint.

The police unit dash cam video is 10 minutes and 39 seconds in length but has no sound. This video begins when the chase started following an attempted traffic stop and runs until the chase is terminated by Farmer.

In 2018, officer body cameras had to be turned on by the officer, and Campbell said Farmer’s should have been turned on as soon as the traffic stop was initiated, but it is not activated until a few minutes later. Today, the Liberty Hill Police Department’s body cameras are set to activate when the police unit lights are turned on.

Computer access
In addition to the allegations of an outburst by Hall, Campbell raised concern that Hall was accessing the in-unit computer system during the ride along, which Campbell said is not only against policy, but against the law.

Hall can be seen accessing the computer 18 seconds into the body camera video footage.

“That’s a huge issue,” Campbell said. “There are policies in place for ride alongs, what they (passengers) can and can’t do. A ride along is strictly an observer. There is training for people who can see certain things. There are strict guidelines from DPS (Texas Department of Public Safety) and state law that cover that. The only person who is supposed to have access to any type of law enforcement computer information system would have to be the police officer.”

According to Texas Penal Code, Title 7, Chapter 33 (Computer Crimes), “A person commits an offense if the person knowingly accesses a computer, computer network, or computer system without the effective consent of the owner. An offense under Subsection (a) is a Class B misdemeanor, except that the offense is a state jail felony if: (2) the computer, computer network, or computer system is owned by the government or a critical infrastructure facility.”

(Read ‘Hall violates DPS policy in accessing police computer’, July 10, 2020)

Raising the question
In an interview with The Independent, Campbell brought the alleged incident forward, and also referenced it in the grievance he filed with the City in April. The original discussion led to the newspaper’s request for the video back in March.

The alleged incident was detailed in the grievance.

“Another incident involved a motorcycle pursuit where Lt. Ringstaff was reviewing body and car camera video to make copies at the request of the FBI for their follow up investigation in a separate case. Lt. Ringstaff brought a concern to me about the Mayor’s behavior as the rider with officer Farmer. I had serious concerns too. The Mayor was seen and heard in the body cam footage using profanity toward other agencies as to why they weren’t there to help, made some very inappropriate comments and is seen accessing the computer terminal as an unauthorized user.”

Internal matters
Connected to this issue is the allegation by Campbell, which appears to be corroborated by text messages from both newly-appointed Police Chief Royce Graeter and Ringstaff, that Hall interfered with department management and discipline.

When the department moved to take disciplinary action against Officer Farmer, who Hall had been in a patrol vehicle with on a ride along during the pursuit in question, Campbell said Hall tried to intervene.

“Hall egregiously interfered with a department internal affairs investigation of Officer Farmer who violated chain of command in addition to what he was being investigated for. Hall threatened me if I got rid of Officer Farmer, I would not have a job. His words were, ‘Be careful, remember who you work for and your policies don’t overrule city policy.’ Hall was way too involved in the investigation and after repeatedly being asked to stay out of it he still involved himself. Officer Farmer was about to be terminated but later resigned.”

In a text message, Graeter confirms what was then frustration within the department over the level of involvement.

“We normally we{sic} don’t have to write anybody up. Farmer has just been a problem child and doesn’t respond to necessary changes. Mayor should understand that everyone sees his behavior at work, not just me. I can’t believe he’s doing all of this stuff. It’s ridiculous…”

In another text related to the personnel situation with Farmer, Graeter wrote, “Mayor can’t make an educated decision about anything, not knowing the real person or quality of work. If Farmer worked for him over at City Hall he would have already been let go. And he’s over here with the possibility each day of needing to make very critical decisions including areas of high liability, deadly force decisions, citizen safety, rights, etc.”

Ringstaff also commented on one text thread, “I wish the mayor had told him he was staying out of it,” in a discussion of the disciplinary issues with Farmer.

According to Campbell, Hall and newly-elected Council member Steve McIntosh became even more involved in police department business in the summer of 2019.

“He and McIntosh began telling me how to operate my department and the Mayor kept reminding me he was my boss and he could fire me anytime. He began telling me what equipment to order, how to run my shifts, how to deploy my staff at events. Mayor Hall would try and tell my staff including Lt. Ringstaff what equipment to order.”

Campbell claimed that the two spent more and more time at the department, and tried to get involved in department personnel and disciplinary action.

“(Hall) would tell me numerous times to get rid of Lt. Ringstaff, David Ahr and had issues with them. He and Becky Wilkins tried to interfere with the lieutenant promotion process and said I should not promote Lt. Graeter.”

Campbell said Hall “bullied” him and instructed him not to release any video with him using profanity, claiming that Lt. Ringstaff was digging things up to stop Hall’s ride along privileges.

Seeking confirmation
Because Campbell alleged in his grievance that the video was first brought to his attention by Lt. Ringstaff, he should be able to confirm or refute the validity of the allegations.

“He (Ringstaff) called me into his office after a request was made by an outside agency, whom he informed me was the Federal Bureau of Investigations, that they were looking into the suspect in this video,” Campbell said. “He (Ringstaff) said he had concerns about the video because they wanted it and there was (Hall’s) behavior in the car. I informed Lt. Ringstaff at the time to inform the proper channels, do what he would normally do and go ahead and release whatever the FBI had requested.”

Campbell added that the departmental management of the computer and video systems was one of Ringstaff’s responsibilities.

“Lieutenant Ringstaff, it is important to note, has full control of the support services side. He had full charge of the computer systems, the body cameras and he was in charge of that,” Campbell said.

Ringstaff can also verify whether the complete video was sent to The Independent or if it was cut off at the end.

On Tuesday, The Independent – through Cleaves – requested an interview with Ringstaff to gather more information on these questions. The City had not responded to the request as of the Wednesday deadline.

Resistance to release
The long delay in releasing the video included a City request for exception to the release of the video, which was later rescinded by the City when on May 21 Liberty Hill Chief Operating Officer Lacie Hale said, “The City has no responsive documents to your request. The request for an Attorney General’s opinion was submitted in error.”

But Hall has acknowledged the existence of the video in question discussing it on numerous occasions and explaining why he would not release it. The effort to obtain the video was to either prove or refute the claims made by Campbell against Hall, and the lengthy efforts to avoid turning over the video footage did not match Hall’s insistence that none of Campbell’s allegations – particularly in the case of the video claims – were true.

Liberty Hill Police Department body cam video footage from pursuit by Officer Jeff Farmer with Mayor Rick Hall from Oct. 4, 2018.

LHPD Dash Cam video footage from pursuit by Officer Jeff Farmer with Mayor Rick Hall on Oct. 4, 2018.

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