Local NewsAustin Police Oversight Director Feuds with Officers and Pushes Critical Race Theory

The Office of Police Oversight director, Farah Muscadin, calls herself a "change agent" and has taken an active approach to "reimagining" public safety.
January 25, 2022
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False sexual assault allegations, free speech suppression, and subordinate discontent have marked Farah Muscadin’s career while her tenure as Austin’s police oversight director now dives headlong into a public feud with the city’s police union.

Just before the New Year, a third-party arbitrator found Muscadin and the Office of Police Oversight (OPO) in violation of the city’s labor contract with its police officers. Specifically, the arbitrator said Muscadin abused her authority by “seeking to dictate some future outcome rather than simply making a recommendation” for disciplinary measures after an internal investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by an officer.

“[T]he evidence and arguments raise[d] by the city indicate that the city does not consider itself or OPO bound by Article 16’s provisions [of the labor contract].”

Muscadin first took over the Police Monitor, now the OPO, in January of 2018 as the interim director, a position made permanent six months later. 

“She has demonstrated the ability to effectively engage community stakeholders, Police Management, the Austin Police Association and Council,” City Manager Spencer Cronk said then.

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The city’s police monitor calls herself a “change agent,” wielding a mandate from the progressive city council to keep a watchful eye on its law enforcement. During that time, she has used the office to increase internal investigations of alleged officer misconduct and push an “reimagining public safety” agenda chock full of Critical Race Theory.

Muscadin’s path to Austin began in Chicago.

Chicago State University Controversy

In 2014, Chicago State University (CSU) Professors Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz sued their employer over violations of free speech. The conflict centered on a faculty blog Beverly and Bionaz operated and used to criticize CSU administrators, most notably President Wayne Watson.

During this period, Muscadin was the director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the university.

Watson had demanded the professors dissolve the blog and cease criticism of the administration. When that didn’t work, Watson and the administration adopted a vague speech code designed to fashion the blog as a medium of “cyberbullying.” The professors then sued, a challenge they ultimately won and were awarded $650,000 through a settlement, along with securing the elimination of the speech code.

But during discovery, Beverly’s colleague Lashonda Peebles testified that administrators, including Muscadin and Watson, pressured her multiple times to file false sexual harassment claims against the professor.

“When I denied any harassment,” Peebles said of a 2014 meeting in Muscadin’s office, “Watson [told] me that I was ‘too strong’ and that he needed me to file the harassment lawsuit against Beverly so Watson could protect me.”

“I reiterated that I did not feel threatened by Beverly and did not intend to sue Beverly. I stated that if I testified that Beverly harassed me, my testimony would be false.”

By the group, Peebles was “accused of not being a ‘team player’” in refusing to help their strategy to get rid of Beverly.

Peebles also stated that Muscadin was involved in the speech code discussion. “At [a 2013] meeting, Watson, Cage, Henderson, Bush, and Muscadin discussed whether a cyber-bullying policy could be used at CSU to discipline Professor Beverly and shut down the Faculty Voice blog,” she said.

Beverly, who has since moved onto the University of Illinois at Chicago, told The Texan that he had a “very distant” relationship with Muscadin as a colleague.

“Farah never had the intestinal fortitude to reject the bad behavior,” Beverly said of her role in the controversy.

“She wasn’t willing to give up the power she got being loyal to those running the university, which was then thrown into a cycle of mismanagement caused by the very people Farah made herself loyal to.”

After the controversy became a lawsuit, Muscadin became the associate vice president of Student Affairs and a dean of students. Eventually, Muscadin was terminated by CSU in 2016, and moved to Austin to practice law. The termination was, according to Muscadin, due to the State of Illinois’ failure to pass a budget which triggered layoffs.

In 2017, Muscadin worked as a policy associate in Councilman Jimmy Flannigan’s office, which began her rise through the City of Austin ranks to the interim director of the Police Monitor.

Told about the arbitrator’s ruling, Beverly quipped, “It sounds like she has brought the Chicago way to Austin.”

Employee Disarray Within the Department

In 2019, four city employees who each worked under Muscadin in the OPM and then the OPO appealed to Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk, alleging a hostile work environment.

“Over the course of the past 15 months, … [staff] has endured a hostile work environment that includes bullying at the hands of the appointed director, Farah Muscadin,” the letter to Cronk reads. “[I]t is the collective sentiment of the staff that Ms. Muscadin has perpetuated harmful and malicious lies, alienated staff, and taken action to drive, remove, and/or replace staff from the office.”

The group of employees — Louis Gonzales, Ryan Harding, Gloria Terrazas, and Sacheen Yates — filed a complaint with the city’s Human Resources Department.

In the letter to Cronk, the employees listed out various grievances with Muscadin. Some include berating an employee for taking a pre-approved vacation; pitting employees against each other, telling Gonzales that Terrazas and Yates were “out to get him”; and insulting employees.

The testimony also stated that “it was uncommon to see [Muscadin] in the office.”

“When will someone hold Farah Muscadin accountable for her behaviors and actions?” Carol Guthrie, a public union representative who speaks for the complainants, told The Texan. “I have worked with the City of Austin for a long time, and I have never seen someone be allowed to create this level of hostility in the workplace and no accountability.”

Guthrie said the group never heard back from Cronk about the appeal.

Friction with APD and a Critical Race Theory Agenda

After the first proposal in 2017 was torpedoed after pressure mounted by a coalition of progressive groups, the final product agreed to by the Austin Police Association (APA) and the city established a more robust oversight body. The OPO may field complaints against officers directly where its predecessor could not.

Nearly 70 percent of the union’s 1,800-person membership supported the proposal. The finalized contract was widely heralded by both sides of the dispute, but since then tension between the OPO and the officers it oversees has swelled.

“This is a massive decision,” APA President Ken Casaday said of the arbitration ruling that cited Muscadin for multiple violations of the labor contract, “because we’ve been seeing this type of behavior from the city for a long period of time.”

That investigation which led to the arbitrator’s wrist-slap isn’t the first point of friction between the OPO director and the department she’s supposed to monitor.

Back in 2020, Muscadin and the OPO objected to a policy change proposed by APD brass concerning “externally initiated complaints” — adjusting the classifications within which they are filed. Muscadin complained the change would “mislead the public and continue to feed a false narrative” that the OPO does not closely assess complaints against APD.

Around then, the APA called for an investigation by Cronk into Muscadin and her past. Cronk declined to take any action but said then that he was aware of the issues highlighted by the APA, including the CSU incident.

“I’m a black woman in Austin who’s working in police oversight and it’s really unfortunate that my credentials and attempt for my reputation to be in question and it really begs [sic] the question if I looked differently if that would happen to anybody else,” she told FOX 7 Austin at that time.

A more pronounced instance of the antagonism between the rank-and-file police and the department is the push to “reimagine” public safety, an effort for which Muscadin and the OPO are chief players.

Muscadin sits on the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force (RPSTF), a group tasked with brainstorming Austin’s public safety reforms and monitoring their progress. She served as its co-chair for a period in 2021. The body features a handful of city representatives, along with an array of leftwing activists including Chas Moore, of the Austin Justice Coalition which spearheaded advocacy for 2020’s $150 million police budget cut and redirection.

That task force’s 2021 mid-year report states in reference to patrol reform, “Long term, we must divest from this entire racist, classist model of patrol policing.” Muscadin is one of five city officials on the task force who signed off on its conclusions.

In a since-deleted Facebook post from 2020, Muscadin shared an article titled “Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People.”

The City of Austin is spending $10,000 per day of critical race theory training for its police department. To run these approximately 30 trainings, the city entered a $2.9 million contract with Joyce James Consulting, which specializes in critical race theory-imbued lectures on systemic racism.

About these trainings, and those that preceded this current contract, retired APD officer Michele Aparicio told The Texan in October, “They were literally calling us racist and homophobic officers — a whole class designed to make it seem like we were guilty of being racist, of being homophobic, and that we treated other people differently.”

According to Aparicio, this was one reason she retired early — one of many APD officers that is part of a larger attrition snag plaguing the department.

But the sessions are also open to the public, and emails show Muscadin requested that the city approve $55,000 in gift cards to hand out to attendees — $550 to each attendee for three and a half days of training.

This moment of racial reckoning in America — marked by the 2020 summer of protests and riots, including in Austin — has bled into nearly every debate, and is most pronounced in the realm of criminal justice and police reform.

In Austin, the OPO already had a designated role, one which its director has been found to have violated.

“The mission of the Office of Police Oversight (OPO) is to provide impartial oversight of the Austin Police Department’s conduct, practices, and policies,” reads the OPO website.

A city spokesperson told The Texan, “While the City disagrees with some of the arbitrator’s factual determinations and conclusions, at the end of the day, the decision was based on a narrow set of specific facts, and does not change the fundamental language and requirements in the negotiated contract, including the requirement for civilian oversight.” 

“As the City analyzes the case and its next steps, the parties will continue to operate under the terms of the contract, and will comply with the requirements outlined in the arbitration decision.”

Muscadin and the OPO declined to comment on this story.

She and the OPO are tasked with evenhandedly calling balls and strikes with the community’s police. The May 2021 passage of Proposition C places more authority over the hiring and removal of the OPO director with the city council, rather than being left to the sole discretion of the city manager.

But those tasked with monitoring the monitor have allowed the office and its director to run roughshod over the agreed-upon list of enumerated responsibilities — leading to a reputation of acting more like an activist than a bureaucrat.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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