Workers Defense Project files complaint against APD over office raid

The Workers Defense Project (WDP) has filed a complaint with the Office of Police Oversight over what they call an "egregious" and "unnecessary" raid on their offices. The Austin Police Department is defending their officers’ actions.

The complaint claims the Austin Police Department’s (APD) execution of a search warrant was obtained under a false pretense and led to ‘an egregious raid’ of WDP’s East Austin offices on November 10, 2021. Police were searching for video footage of an alleged attempted assault that occurred in the nonprofit’s parking lot on October 14--an assault that reportedly did not involve anyone from the organization.

"We did not see this coming," said Workers Defense Project communications director Juan Benitez.

A subpoena for two hours of the nonprofit’s video footage was obtained on October 22, according to WDP. However, APD reportedly failed to properly serve the subpoena to WDP and instead raided Workers Defense to acquire security footage.  

"We’re not accused of any crime, let alone a violent crime," said Workers Defense Staff Attorney Hannah Alexander.


During the November 10th raid, APD officers allegedly broke open the door of WDP’s office and seized security footage, including weeks of confidential video recordings, instead of properly serving a subpoena for the relevant two hours of footage to the organization’s Executive Director.

APD officers were also parading through the office with their guns drawn and raised during the raid, according to WDP. Austin Police Department reportedly sent five armed officers in at least four separate city-owned vehicles to search for evidence that could have been collected had Austin Police properly served the subpoena.

Following this raid, a list of complaints submitted to the Office of Police Oversight includes:

  • Austin Police obtained a subpoena for two hours and five minutes of a nonprofit’s private video footage but then failed to even attempt to serve the subpoena.
  • Austin Police either do not know or do not care how to properly serve a subpoena. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 24.04(a) states that a subpoena can be hand-delivered, read aloud, emailed with a return acknowledgement, or mailed certified mail.
  • Austin Police wasted city resources when they sent five armed officers in at least four separate city-owned vehicles to execute a search warrant instead of simply emailing a subpoena.
  • Austin Police damaged the nonprofit’s front door when they broke in to conduct the raid.
  • Even after seizing the evidence authorized by the search warrant and even though nonprofit staff had unlocked each room that they were requested, Austin Police broke into an additional locked room, which contained attorney-client privileged legal files in a filing cabinet.

Workers Defense Project and other community organizations issued the following statements:

Emily Timm, Co-Executive Director, Workers Defense Project: "This incident is yet another clear example of the need to reimagine public safety and the role police play in our communities. We are a non-profit space that frequently welcomes clients seeking legal support, hosts community meetings and events, and more. This unnecessary escalation and raid could have been executed in the presence of Austinites already traumatized by policing. That it didn’t is sheer luck, infuriating, and this incident severely damages immigrants’ trust with APD. This event highlights the harm that APD inflicts on the people of Austin whenever it rushes to perpetrate a raid. Such a violent and dangerous military action, if ever necessary, should be used in a safety emergency."

Sukyi McMahon, Senior Policy Director, Austin Justice Coalition: "What should have been a routine ask for video footage became an unnecessary ordeal that caused upheaval for a community organization that advocates for low-wage immigrant workers and its base, and this incident sounded the alarm for Workers Defense Project’s coalition partners throughout the city. Of course, we stand with them in their justifiable contempt of all that occurred on their premises. This needs to be investigated from decision points to action points so those responsible can be held to account."

Emily Gerrick, Policy Director, Texas Fair Defense Project: "APD has chosen to use its power and resources to intimidate nonprofit employees with drawn guns and busted doors in order to obtain video footage that it could have simply requested via email. There is absolutely no justification for this violent action against community members who are fighting for the rights of low-wage immigrant workers. And it is difficult to imagine that APD would have similarly raided the offices of Apple or Tesla to obtain video footage of something that may have happened in their parking lots."

"Not accurate at all from what I understand," said Austin Police Association president Ken Casaday in reference to the officers' alleged behavior. 

Casaday says his officers tell a much different story. "A search warrant like that, there’s no need to go in waving guns. That’s the issue that I have with this. I’m not sure that the things the Workers Defense is claiming, happened," said Casaday.

The Austin Police Department released the following statement:

The Austin Police Department (APD) is aware of a complaint alleging officer misconduct that was filed by the Worker’s Defense Project (WDP). The complaint stems from actions taken by APD personnel while investigating Case No. 2102870515 involving an unprovoked attack on two innocent females who were walking near the WDP’s parking lot on October 14, 2021. APD is responsible for thoroughly investigating all crimes, especially violent felony offenses, that occur inside the City of Austin. The investigation resulted in two Aggravated Assault charges being filed against a female suspect. The parties involved in this incident do not have any connection to the WDP.  

From the onset of the investigation, attempts were made to work with WDP employees to get vital evidence of the attack from their surveillance camera system. All requests were denied by employees of the WDP. Eventually, APD obtained a search warrant, which was reviewed and approved by an independent magistrate. The search warrant authorized APD personnel to obtain the recording device that is believed to contain the evidence. When APD personnel attempted to serve the valid search warrant, WDP employees again refused to voluntarily comply. APD personnel then forced entry into the building.  

In response to the complaint, an internal review, with oversight by the Office of Police Oversight, will be conducted. All actions by APD personnel will be reviewed to ensure compliance with APD Policy. Due to this review, further information cannot be released at this time.  

"If a detective or an officer comes with a search warrant to your office space, you open the door and let them in. You don’t lock the door," said Casaday.

However, the Workers Defense Project says this never should have happened—and say it’s traumatizing to the immigrant workers they represent. "This incident severely challenges immigrants’ trust with APD even more," said Benitez.

There is believed to be body camera video of what happened, however it has not yet been released.

Read the complaint from the Workers Defense Project below:

FOX 7 reached out to the Office of Police Oversight and was told by a representative that the office cannot comment on complaints that have been submitted.

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