“Go ahead and call the cops—they can’t unrape you.”
It’s difficult to imagine a sentence more horrifying than that one, partly because it rings so true. Perpetrators of sexual assault commit crimes that often leave lasting emotional and physical damage. Survivors of sexual assault often avoid reporting their crimes for fear of being blamed or not believed. It’s a horrifying sentence because the person who delivers the joke is putting him- or herself in the position of an assailant. It’s particularly horrifying when it’s uttered by a police officer.
Last May, two Austin police officers, Mark Lytle and Michael Castillo, were caught on their dashcam passing the time by making repulsive jokes. After blowing a whistle at a woman walking by, Lytle says, “Go ahead and call the cops—they can’t unrape you.”
“Ha! Yeah! Exactly!” Castillo adds, then asks, “You didn’t turn your camera off, did you?”
“They can’t unrape you!” Lytle responds, but the answer is no, he didn’t turn his camera off.
Austin attorney Drew Gibbs posted the video on YouTube in late October after making an open records request. Responding to public outrage, APD launched an “internal investigation” that lasted more than two weeks.
Finally, on Tuesday, APD Police Chief Art Acevedo suspended the two officers involved in the conversation. He called the joke “embarrassing” and “inappropriate,” but ultimately conceded that the officers’ “heart[s]may be in the right place.”
Lyttle and Castillo will be suspended for five and three days, respectively, without pay. They will also go through “sensitivity training.”
But as Andrea Grimes points out in RH Reality Check, these measures are woefully inadequate.
This attitude isn’t a “joke” at any time. But it’s especially egregious when it’s held by two law enforcement officials who could be called upon to respond to a sexual assault on any given day—well, except for the whole five days that Lyttle will be off work, or the three that Castillo won’t be out on patrol.
These measly suspensions are a shallow half-measure that, at best, addresses a particularly public incident of willful police incompetence and sets the department—and Austin—up for more incidents like this in the future.
It’s not just Lytle and Castillo, and it’s not just rape jokes. Grimes brings up APD’s history of killing non-violent people of color, as well as two officers’ physically forceful arrest of a jogger who jaywalked and didn’t think to carry her driver’s license while out for a run. During a press conference the next day, Art Acevedo shrugged it off, saying that he’s just thankful that his officers aren’t “committing sexual assaults on duty.” With a bar that low, it’s no surprise that his officers aren’t holding themselves to higher standards in the field.
Sending two officers to sensitivity training and giving them a few days off won’t affect APD’s cultural problems—especially when many leaders don’t even consider them to be problems. As the incoming President of the Austin Police Association, Kenneth Casaday, said, “A lot of times, officers are clowning around, and sometimes we say things we regret.”
But this isn’t just an issue of “clowning around” and making a joke that falls flat. Officers can exercise better judgment about what they say and do in uniform, but APD has to expect nothing less. If the Lytle’s and Castillo’s actions really are “contrary to the long-standing commitment of the Department to bring compassionate justice to sexual assault victims,” as APD said in a statement, then the department and Acevedo should act in solidarity with those victims.