Fire in San Marcos apartments offers lessons for homeowners

Emergency personnel continue search and recovery efforts at the Iconic Village apartments, where a fire broke out early Friday, in San Marcos, Texas, on July 20, 2018.
LYNDA M. GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

In researching an editorial about the fire that tore through two apartment complexes in San Marcos recently, I spoke to safety experts who scared me straight about fire safety – and not just in multifamily residences and college dorms, but in my own home.

With busy lifestyles, fire safety typically isn’t high on our radars. It should be. Protecting one’s home requires more than installing a few fire alarms. Along with alarms, homeowners should have other devices on hand, such as fire extinguishers and fire escape ladders. Also, homeowners should have an exit plan.

“People underestimate how fast and how hot fires grow,” said Jeffrey Shapiro, a fire engineering consultant who lives in Austin.”

“Then you see something like this.”

Shapiro was referring to the fire that broke out at the Iconic Village and Village Pads apartments in San Marcos on July 20.

READ EDITORIAL: San Marcos fire raises questions about safety of renters

Five people were killed in the blaze that spread through three buildings in the complex. To escape the fire, some residents said they jumped out apartment windows. Survivors said they didn’t hear fire alarms go off. Instead they said they got notice their building was burning from others who knocked on their doors at 4:30 a.m.

San Marcos authorities are investigating the cause of the fire and whether smoke alarms in apartments malfunctioned.

Automatic sprinkler systems are the most effective protection against fires in apartments because they limit the spread of fire until firefighters arrive. Sprinkler systems save lives, studies show. But those apartments were built in 1970 before sprinkler systems were required for multifamily residences. State law requires that all multifamily residences have fire alarms. Tenants are responsible for replacing the batteries.

Certainly, I have installed fire alarms in my home that detect smoke, the ones that use nine-volt batteries. What I didn’t know was that those fire alarms should be put in every bedroom – if not every room – along with installing one in the kitchen. And there are better models on the market that don’t require regular replacement of batteries.

“Fire alarms activate only where smoke is,” Shapiro said, adding that if the alarm is in the kitchen and a person is asleep in the bedroom when a fire erupts, then he or she “might not get an early warning.”

Aside from placing them in each room of the house, homeowners should consider upgrading to tamper-resistant fire alarms powered by lithium batteries that last for 10 years. The sealed versions can’t be easily opened without breaking the units, said Andy Teas, vice president for public affairs for the Houston apartment Association. At less than $30 each, they are affordable.

Another option are wireless smoke alarms that create an interconnected system so that when one alarm is triggered, all alarms in the home sound off.

RELATED: Ex-residents at San Marcos apartments recall faulty smoke detectors

Fire extinguishers especially crafted for home use also are a good investment, Teas said, because they can suppress a fire if used timely until firefighters arrive. Placing extinguishers in a kitchen and a bedroom makes sense because kitchens are where grease fires break out. But be careful not to place too close to an over or stove. An extinguisher used effectively can put out a small fire or buy time to escape. They range in price from about $20 to $80.

Shapiro mentioned something I had not heard of, a fire escape ladder, for people who live in two-story homes. They are portable, roll-up ladders that mount to walls or windows and can be a way out when doorways are blocked by fire. They should be kept in bedrooms near windows, he said. I found them online, ranging from $25 to $160.

Think ahead so you don’t get trapped in your home if a fire breaks out, Shapiro and Teas said. That means knowing different ways to exit a home. It might mean going out a window if there is no way to make it to the first floor, or out a back door, or even off a roof.

“We’ve gotten used to not having fires, so we are not thinking about fire safety in our homes,” said David Mintz, vice president of government affairs for the Texas Apartment Association. “We’ve got to be thinking about these things.”

He is right. Fire safety in our homes must be a priority.

Community event offers free wellness knowledge, and BBQ, too

 

As a longtime church music minister and funeral director in East Austin and Manor, Barry J.W. Franklin has stood at the intersection of some of the most vexing challenges confronting African Americans: Health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease, and financial illiteracy.

Those challenges, he says, have diminished the quality of life for so many people he regularly interacts with in church pews and funeral homes – folks who have lost their inheritance, homes and health, essentially because they lacked the knowledge and savvy to address those issues timely.

On Saturday, Franklin is doing something about it by bringing experts, ranging from doctors and nurses to financial planners and insurance professionals to East Austin’s Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex — which by the way, should be renamed for the late Eric Mitchell, who as a council member in the 1990s secured the federal HUD dollars to build it.

READ: Fiery one-term council member was part of pro-business minority, rattled status quo

That’s a story for another column. Back to Saturday’s event, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the entertainment complex, 1156 Hargrave St.

Thanks to a host of volunteers and Franklin, who is paying for the venue, barbecue and fixings, the event is free. All are welcome.

“African Americans need to be educated on important issues while they are living so they can improve their health, survive old-age with dignity and hold on to their homes and inheritance,” Franklin said, explaining why he is hosting what he calls “A Community Celebration of Health and Wealth.”

Franklin says the event will feature information and screenings regarding diabetes, heart disease, high and low blood pressure and cancer – several of the chronic illnesses that disproportionately afflict black Americans.

The good news for African Americans is that their death rate has decreased by 25 percent from 1999 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bad news is that African Americans, ages 18-49, are two times as likely to die from heart disease than whites; and they are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than whites, according to the CDC.

RELATED: African American health

Another overlooked health issue is oral care for children and adults. Franklin’s got that covered with dentists and other specialists who will be on hand to provide information about that. He wants to increase awareness of oral cancer and gum disease.

Franklin says he didn’t limit the health and wellness fair to health issues because finances also play an important role in a person’s quality of life.

“I’ve seen many people pass away and leave their estates to family members and others who aren’t equipped to handle those assets, back taxes and related matters,” Franklin said. “That lack of knowledge has contributed to people losing their homes in East Austin and putting folks in debt.”

Aside from financial and estate planning, experts will be on hand to discuss wills, trusts, reverse mortgages, social security and veteran benefits and various kinds of insurance.

Among those supporting Franklin’s event is the Rev. Henrietta Sullivan Mkwanazi, co-pastor for historic Metropolitan AME Church in East Austin.

“Even those of us with college degrees have a hard time distinguishing between whole life insurance and term life insurance,” she said. “This is three packed hours of knowledge on that and many other topics.”

Mkwanazi continued: “There is an old saying that ‘knowledge is power’ and people suffering from a lack of knowledge don’t know how to tap into the things that need to be done to improve their health and welfare.”

On Saturday, the public can tap in to what Mkwanazi called “free knowledge” at the community celebration.

Grumet: Don’t disparage the ‘Anti-$100 Bill Coalition’ in soccer debate

I know it’s a popular sport to joke about the passionate level of civic engagement at Austin City Hall, especially when ideas get bandied between advisory groups for months on end and City Council meetings run till 3 a.m.

But we should cheer for the smart, inquisitive people who make the time to attend public meetings, read up on various proposals and ask tough questions, especially when taxpayer dollars are on the line. They make our city better.

I was disappointed Thursday evening when Precourt Sports Ventures lobbyist Richard Suttle, speaking to a roomful of people at the Central Library about the possibility of bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Austin, drew an unfortunate analogy to the city’s reputation for civic engagement.

“Overwhelmingly this is a popular deal,” Suttle said of the MLS proposal, still being negotiated, in which Precourt would pay $1 a year to use city-owned land for a stadium but wouldn’t pay any property taxes on the venue. The franchise promises to provide other perks and regional economic benefits.

“Now, there are some folks that have questions,” Suttle continued. “And in Austin, I tell the story that if we decide we’re going to give out $100 bills on Congress Avenue on Saturday for free, no strings attached, the Anti-$100 Bill Coalition will be formed by tomorrow, and we’ll have discussions on what that would look like.”

Editorial: Negotiate MLS stadium deal on Austin’s terms, not Precourt’s

Some folks in the crowd chuckled. A few people booed. One woman yelled out, “That’s very unfair.” I shared her sentiment.

I’d love to see Austin have its own MLS team, and I see the tremendous potential for it to bring different parts of the city together. But residents are right to ask serious questions about the financial cost to the city, the impact of traffic and parking on the neighbors, and the tradeoffs other cities have experienced when a pro sports team comes to town. 

These residents shouldn’t be likened to naysayers who can’t even see the good when it’s raining Benjamins.

Suttle told the crowd, and later emphasized to me, that wasn’t his intention.

“All I mean by that is that we have a robust city where we like to talk about stuff, and that’s a healthy thing, because we always end up with a better solution when we have everybody in the room, everybody talking,” he told the crowd.

He told me the “Anti-$100 Bill Coalition” was “meant to be the most absurd example” of community feedback, not a commentary on the soccer stadium critics.

Commentary: MLS stadium deal should score points for the community

In fact, Suttle said he left the meeting with a to-do list based on the concerns residents raised Thursday evening.

“I heard loud and clear that the neighbors that live within a mile of the place, a mile east on Braker (Lane), are concerned about people parking in their neighborhood and walking to the stadium,” Suttle told me. “What that means is I’ve got to go find the model on how they solved that in the neighborhoods near Zilker Park for ACL.” Additionally, Suttle said he recognizes Precourt needs to provide a specific plan for parking. The current site plan has only 1,000 parking spaces for a stadium that will seat 20,000.

He also took note of concerns one resident raised about drainage and water quality, as the McKalla tract is near the headwaters of Little Walnut Creek. One speaker wanted to see more details on the perks for youth soccer; another wanted to see Tejano music incorporated into events at the site; another suggested the deal include a clear cap on the city’s financial contributions to the venture. All duly noted, Suttle said.

The most recurring criticism I heard Thursday evening, though, is that Precourt wouldn’t pay property taxes on the stadium, which would be built by the franchise and then given to the city. One estimate puts the unpaid property taxes at $5 million in the stadium’s first year, including roughly $2.7 million for Austin schools, $1 million for the city of Austin, nearly $850,000 for Travis County, almost $250,000 for Central Health and about $230,000 for Austin Community College. 

Kind of the opposite of handing out free $100 bills to the public.

Precourt is still negotiating other financial terms with the city, with the goal of bringing a proposed deal to the City Council Aug. 9.

But a word of advice: Listen to your critics. Use their concerns to make your proposal better for Austin. And leave the absurd analogies at home.

Phillips: Why Criner has all-white jury in UT murder case, and not jury of peers

 

Potential jurors are sworn in before jury selection in the capital murder case of Meechaiel Criner, the transient man accused of killing University of Texas student Haruka Weiser in April 2016, in District Judge David Wahlberg’s 167th district court Monday July 9, 2018.
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Travis County prosecutor Rickey Jones concedes an all-white jury is far from ideal in a case in which the defendant is an African American, who would be sentenced to life without parole if he is found guilty of the capital murder charge he faces.

“It doesn’t look like a jury of one’s peers,” he told me. “People – especially African Americans — notice those things and raise questions.”

Those are the very questions Jones wants to avoid, not just in the current high-profile case in which Meechaiel Criner is on trial for killing and sexually assaulting University of Texas student Haruka Weiser, but in felony criminal cases that involve lengthy prison sentences.

Criner, 20, has pleaded not guilty to the 2016 crime on UT’s campus. He would spend the rest of his life in prison if the all-white jury finds him guilty.

Jury selection in the case brought into focus the deep distrust people of color harbor about the criminal justice system. Along with other challenges (such as concerns about missing time from work or not having child care) that affect most people’s ability to serve on juries, the belief that the criminal justice system discriminates against African American and Latinos makes it tough to seat them on juries, Jones said.

READ: Meechaiel Criner trial: Race at issue in second day of jury selection

That kind of revelation coming from a prosecutor is uncommon. But Jones, assistant director of the trial division for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, knows something of the difficulties in seating blacks on a jury. He worked as a criminal defense lawyer for 23 years before joining the DA’s Office. From that perch, Jones got an up-close look at the jury-selection system.

In many cases, including Criner’s, Jones said it was not mostly prosecutors striking blacks from the jury, but blacks taking themselves out of jury selection because they don’t trust the criminal justice system can be fair to African Americans. While jurors publicly uttering those beliefs during jury selection can be rehabilitated by a defense lawyer, prosecutor or judge, it’s the next step that disqualifies so many African Americans, he said.

“If they have this belief (about the criminal justice system), I can put that aside if they say they can be fair in this case,” Jones explained.

“If they say, ‘no,’ they can’t be fair in this case, then that is the end of it because that is the law.”

Jones said that is the step that eliminates minority jurors. He has witnessed many African Americans come right out and say that they would be unable to be impartial in assessing evidence and deciding sentencing of a black defendant charged with a serious felony.

“That is where we lose our black jurors,” he said. “We can’t rehabilitate them after that.”

Jones doesn’t deny that African Americans have good reason to believe the deck is stacked against them when it comes to the criminal justice system. The many exonerations by juries of police officers for shooting and killing unarmed African Americans under questionable circumstances are a case in point.

Then there are the patterns and practices of too many prosecutors who have been known to strike African Americans from juries because of their race, particularly in serious felony or death penalty cases involving black defendants. Such practices spurred the U.S. Supreme court to bar racial discrimination in the selection of juries.

In Texas, such practices were unearthed in 1986 by The Dallas Morning News which cited a 1963 internal memo in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office directing prosecutors when picking juries not to take “Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or how well educated.”

Such behavior by Dallas prosecutors continued, according to an analysis by the Morning News that showed as recently as 2002, Dallas County prosecutors were excluding eligible black prospects from juries at more than twice the rate they excluded whites.

RELATED: Study: Blacks routinely excluded from juries

A study reported by NPR in 2010 showed ongoing discriminatory tactics by prosecutors.

Bryan Stevenson’s nonprofit group Equal Justice Initiative detailed widespread discrimination in the selection of jurors across the Deep South. One of the most troubling reasons prosecutors cited for dismissing black jurors, Stevenson said, were assertions about their intelligence, even though many of those potential jurors were college graduates.

Those dynamics continue, including in the Criner case.

One African American was struck for having a felony background, as required by law. Another was struck by a prosecutor who questioned his fitness to serve because a questionnaire he answered had many confusing answers, Jones said.

But three of the other four blacks were dismissed because they were unable to follow the law regarding impartiality and fairness because of their views regarding the criminal justice system, Jones said. The fourth was let go for similar causes because of her views that the criminal justice system treats people with mental disabilities unfairly.

Aside from losing those potential jurors, another Travis County minority resident, who said he recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen, stated that during his time living in the country he has come to believe that minorities accused of a crime do not get fair trials. He, too, was dismissed.

With that, the standard – a jury of one’s peers – fell. An all-white jury was seated.

Jones believes things must change to prevent further erosion of public trust. He is right.

That has got to start with African Americans not opting out of jury service because of their legitimate beliefs about discrimination in the criminal justice system. Having those beliefs is OK, but as jurors, they must be impartial in assessing a defendant’s guilt or innocence regardless of his or her race.

Preventing unfair or unjust verdicts and sentencing requires sacrifice in giving one’s time to jury service when called. And it requires fairness from prosecutors in not using lame excuses to strike qualified people of color to justify keeping African Americans and other minorities off juries.

 

Grumet: Did Austinites really buy into the city’s plastic bag ban?

While H-E-B and other retailers consider whether to bring back disposable plastic bags, I’ve heard some interesting discussions about how much Austinites actually supported the city’s recently nullified plastic bag ban.

That’s because plastic bags didn’t entirely go away. Remember, Austin’s ordinance only barred stores from providing those wispy, single-use plastic bags, but H-E-B lawfully provides thicker, reusable plastic bags for sale. Did residents simply replace one kind of plastic bag with another, and send the same amount of plastic into the trash?

Let’s look at the numbers.

Our recent editorial noted the bag ban led to Austinites using nearly 200 million fewer disposable plastic bags a year. But that same editorial also pointed out the weight of single-use plastic bags kept out of the landfill was nearly offset by the 23 tons of the thicker, reusable plastic bags arriving each year at the city’s recycling centers. Those centers aren’t equipped to recycle plastic bags, so those bags end up going to the landfill.

A reader suggested these numbers mean Austinites didn’t strongly support the city’s bag ban, which the City Council approved in 2012 and the Texas Supreme Court struck down last month. When the free disposable bags went away, the logic goes, customers simply paid for the heavier, reusable plastic bags and then threw them away, too.

I don’t think that’s the story those numbers tell, though.

Consider the old brain-teaser about which weighs more: A ton of feathers or a ton of bricks? The answer, of course, is they weigh the same. A ton is a ton. It just takes more truckloads of feathers than bricks to hit the one-ton mark.

That’s also the case with plastic bags: Specifically, you get about seven times as many disposable plastic bags per ton as you would thicker, reusable plastic bags, according to the weights of both bags provided in this 2015 report for the city.

That report even included a helpful photo from H-E-B showing, on left, a box containing 100 reusable cloth bags; in middle, a box containing 250 of the thicker, reusable plastic bags; and on right, a box containing 2,000 disposable plastic bags.

HEB bags
This photo provides an at-a-glance comparison of a box containing 100 reusable cloth bags (left); a box containing 250 of the thicker, reusable plastic bags (middle); and a box containing 2,000 disposable plastic bags (right). H-E-B provided this image for a 2015 Austin report on the city’s plastic bag ban.

Let’s be clear: 23 tons of plastics headed to the landfill is a bad thing, whether it’s composed of thicker, reusable bags, or seven times as many disposable plastic bags. But in terms of measuring Austinites’ compliance with the spirit of the bag ban, the number of bags matters. Considering the weight of discarded bags remained about the same, it seems only a fraction of Austinites were throwing out the heavier, reusable plastic bags, compared to the number of residents who used to toss disposable plastic bags.

In other words, many Austin residents made the switch to reusable cloth bags, or used the heavier, reusable plastic bags repeatedly, as intended.

I should also tell you: None of these plastic bags have to go in the trash.

True, you can’t recycle them in the blue recycling bin that you roll out to your curb. But H-E-B and Randall’s have recycling bins near their store entrances where customers can drop off plastic bags and other kinds of plastic film, such as bubble wrap and the plastic wrapping that comes around paper towels.

Last year H-E-B recycled about 1,000 tons of plastics statewide from those bins, spokeswoman Leslie Sweet told me. She didn’t have a breakdown for the Austin area or for plastic bags only. But rest assured that number includes some of those heavier, reusable plastic bags, which in fact bear markings on the bottom proclaiming they are “recyclable.”

HEB_reusablebag
The thicker, reusable plastic bags sold by H-E-B are labeled as recyclable – but you can’t put them in Austin’s blue recycling bins.

Why doesn’t the city recycle them?

Blame the machinery. The items placed in residents’ curbside blue bins go to recycling processing centers where machines separate paper from metal and glass bottles from plastic ones. Any kind of soft plastic material, such as plastic bags or bubble wrap, gums up the gears, a city spokeswoman told me.

But the city does accept plastic bags and film for recycling if you drop it off at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center in Southeast Austin.

Sorry, city employees. Your second job is our business.

I hate to say it, but if you’re a stickler for privacy, a government job isn’t for you.

For starters, your salary is a matter of public record. In fact, most people could find it with just a few keystrokes if you’re among the hundreds of thousands of public employees in the Texas Tribune’s Government Salaries Explorer.

Your annual performance reviews? Public record.

Your emails and text messages, even from your personal email account and personal cell phone? Also public records, if the communication pertains to work.

And that embarrassing reprimand for filing work orders with fake names like “Dick Hertz” and “Ima Dumas” is not only a public record, but it’s likely to earn you some media attention.

Point is, when you work in the public sector, you work for the public. Whether you’re fielding complaints about soaring water bills or scrutinizing rezoning applications, you’re handling matters of public interest. We have a right to see what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

Above all, we expect your actions serve the public good, not a personal agenda.

So I was disappointed to learn the city employees’ union is pushing against a long-overdue effort to require Austin employees to disclose their second jobs. The city’s human resources director originally promised such a policy last fall, but opposition from the local AFSCME has stymied the effort.

ALSO READ: Late-night council meetings hurt the cause of open government

“As long as employees who work for the city of Austin show up for work on time and are doing their job, we feel like what they do on their off hours is their business,” Carol Guthrie, the local AFSCME ’s business manager, recently told Statesman reporter Elizabeth Findell. “Many employees have to have two, sometimes three, jobs to make ends meet. They’re proud people who don’t want people to know they subsidize their family that way.”

OK, first of all, there’s no shame in picking up extra work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates one in 20 workers has a second job, with dual-earners evenly dispersed among age groups and over-represented among college grads. Findell’s previous reporting shows some city workers are making extra bucks as pilates instructors, barbers, H-E-B baggers, ride-hailing drivers and real estate agents, among other professions.

I bet the vast majority of these second jobs pose no conflict with workers’ duties at City Hall. But the only way to know is to have full transparency. A librarian who moonlights as a Realtor probably isn’t a problem, but a Development Services worker dabbling in private real estate raises ethical issues.

These self-dealing concerns are not hypothetical. Last year an auditor’s office investigation found an Austin Energy employee responsible for approving developers’ electric service plans was also working as a consultant for some of those projects. Another investigation found an Austin Water employee approved an online marketing campaign with the same firm that gave him a free website for his side hustle in real estate.

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As Findell has reported, only a third of Austin’s 36 departments require employees to notify a supervisor about their outside employment, and not all of them keep the information in a centralized, easily accessible format for the public to see. That’s unacceptable in a city that prides itself on transparent government. It’s also out of step with other Texas cities.

Houston requires its city workers fill out a form and get the approval of their department director for any outside gig. Fort Worth has a similar form, and San Antonio, El Paso and Arlington likewise require workers to get their department head’s approval in writing before starting a second job.

Not only does this disclosure provide transparency, but it ensures there’s a conversation between worker and boss about any potential conflicts of interest.

That’s a better safeguard than Austin’s current policy, which simply prohibits employees from taking a second job that poses a conflict of interest or interferes with their city duties — and largely leaves that call up to the employee, except in specific departments that require notification. Even the proposed policy being drafted by Austin’s HR director doesn’t go far enough: Employees’ second-job disclosures would be noted in their personnel file, but there would be no centralized place for the public to look up that information, rendering this open-government gesture largely hollow.

I don’t begrudge city workers earning extra money on the side; in fact, I applaud their talents and drive. I do think a full disclosure policy, commonplace in other large Texas cities, protects employees as well as the city. It puts everything on the table, so there aren’t surprises down the line about whether an employee’s second job poses a problem.

Austin and its workers should embrace this kind of transparency, in full view of the public. When you work for the government, it’s just part of doing business.

Phillips: Without context, officer’s use of force draws scrutiny

A man pictured in a viral video being punched by an Austin police officer early Wednesday was armed with a knife and threatening staff at a downtown bar, according to court documents.
Justin Grant, 23, was charged with drug possession, resisting arrest and making a terroristic threat and was booked into the Travis County Jail after a clash with police outside the Rain bar early Wednesday that was captured on video and shared more than 5,000 times, documents and images show.

 

The video of an Austin police officer punching a man in the face as he lay restrained on the ground is disturbing. One officer grabs the man’s arms, while the other officer sits on top of his legs, delivering a series of hard blows to a seemingly defenseless suspect. A third person who is not an officer helps restrain the shirtless man.

No wonder the video went viral.

But here’s the thing: Context is important. And as Austin Police Chief Brian Manley cautions, context can’t be seen or determined from a video recording showing only part of the incident, which happened early Wednesday in downtown Austin.

Context, as Manley says, means knowing what happened in the moments before a bystander started recording the incident. That should be available from footage of body-worn cameras of two officers, who arrested the suspect. But here’s another thing: Those cameras failed.

One fell off an officer — or was knocked off — as he was trying to arrest the man, Justin Grant, 23. A second body camera worn by another officer stopped working.

“There was a lot that happened prior to the part that has been displayed in public right now,” Manley said. “I understand the community’s concern with the video as it was posted. I don’t think it was readily known that the suspect at that time was in possession of a deadly weapon.”

RELATED: Video of Austin officer punching restrained man under police review

Manley was referring to a 6-inch knife, which according to police and witnesses, was tucked in Grant’s waistband. A witness said Grant could be seen reaching for the weapon as two officers approached him on Fourth Street. Police also say Grant tried to reach for his knife during the altercation.

Officers were called to the scene because Grant reportedly was threatening staff at the Rain nightclub early Wednesday. Grant ultimately was arrested and charged with drug possession, resisting arrest and making a terroristic threat, according to court documents.

Given what’s on the video, the arrest has become controversial, raising questions about whether the officers used reasonable or excessive force.

Manley has called on his Internal Affairs division to get answers to that question. The inquiry, he said, will turn on information gathered from police, witnesses, the nightclub and viral video, among other things. The chief has asked for others who witnessed the incident to come forward with their accounts or cell phone videos.

Austin police say Justin Grant, 23, was arrested Wednesday, July 4, 2018, after threatening staff at the Rain nightclub early Wednesday.

What won’t be part of the inquiry is what would have been the most objective account of the incident because the officers’ body cameras failed. Those cameras have been successful in providing independent, factual accounts regarding APD’s use of force because they captured the entire episode.

On several occasions, officers were proved to be acting with reasonable force after supervisors reviewed the footage from body-worn cameras. Such evidence was invaluable in how those incidents were perceived by the public and handled by police brass.

This week’s controversial arrest, however, illustrates the limitations — and deficiencies — of body-worn cameras, which were supposed to be sturdy enough to endure contact between police and suspects in arrests that get physical.

What I learned, however, is that the Axon-manufactured body cameras Austin police use are attached to their shirts, using powerful magnets. While hard to pull apart, it’s not uncommon during physical contact for them to slide apart, then fall to the ground. That is apparently what happened Wednesday with the first officer’s body camera.

As for why the second officer’s body-worn camera stopped working, that still is a mystery.

Manley says there is no indication that the officer turned his camera off, and in fact the camera was recording before it suddenly stopped. He added that it didn’t capture any of the incident.

The chief said he is working with Axon to look at better ways of harnessing cameras to officers’ uniforms. As to that other camera that just stopped working, Manley said he would examine whether it is a lemon that should be replaced or whether the malfunction signals something bigger with body-worn cameras.

Do they, for instance, have a technical default that causes them to stop under certain conditions?

In the short run, it’s a problem for APD, which has come under national scrutiny for its use of excessive force. The department has not shaken the stigma of the violent arrest a few years ago of a small-framed African American schoolteacher, Breaion King, after she was stopped by an Austin officer for a traffic violation. That was caught on video, which also went viral.

The city made a huge investment in body-worn cameras in response to King’s arrest and other incidents that involved excessive or deadly force. Those cameras are key to a healthy relationship between police and the public. They protect police and the public and help hold officers accountable. But body-worn cameras aren’t useful if they don’t function in the moments we need them most.

If context is important, then body-worn cameras need to work.