When ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft objected to a new Austin ordinance requiring fingerprinting of drivers, a petition drive sent the matter to voters in a May election.
The bitter campaign that followed was the most expensive in the city’s history — more than $10 million spent in support of the ride-hailing companies. Fifty-seven percent of voters sided with the city and its requirements for ride companies.
Two days after the vote, Uber and Lyft carried out their campaign threat by deactivating their apps in Austin. Seven months later, they haven’t come back.
Austin voters were back at the polls in November with another transportation question, and 59 percent approved borrowing $720 million for local transportation projects. The bond will provide an unprecedented amount of money for roads all over the city, as well as trail and transit improvements.
The University of Texas was shaken in April when the body of 18-year-old freshman dance student Haruka Weiser was found in a creek that runs through campus — slain on a Sunday night while walking back to her dorm. It was the first homicide on the UT campus since the 1966 Tower shooting.
After several nervous and emotional days on campus, police arrested an 18-year-old runaway, Meechaiel Criner, and charged him with capital murder.
The case prompted an internal review at Texas Child Protective Services, which had custody of Criner. He had been living in a therapeutic foster home in Killeen but disappeared 10 days before the UT slaying.
It also prompted a safety review by the University of Texas, which called for hiring more police and security guards, improving lighting on campus, tightening access to buildings and developing policies aimed at reducing the presence of homeless people on campus.
Two years of growing headlines over police shootings and a burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement boiled over in the summer of 2016 with a spate of deaths of black men and the slaying of five Dallas police officers.
In Austin, two cases of police use of force dominated the news.
First, a police officer responding to a disturbance call encountered 17-year-old David Joseph, who was naked and unarmed. Dashcam video showed Joseph ignoring officer Geoffrey Freeman’s commands and then running toward the officer. Freeman shot and killed Joseph in the middle of a street — a shooting that led to an immediate firestorm over Freeman’s use of lethal force. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, saying the officer’s conduct was not warranted, fired Freeman, a 10-year veteran of the department. A grand jury chose not to indict the officer.
In June, an American-Statesman investigation revealed the violent arrest of teacher Breaion King by an Austin police officer. Videotape of the arrest, which went unreported when it occurred in June 2015, showed officer Bryan Richter removing King from her car and twice throwing her to the ground because she refused to close her car door. In the patrol car after her arrest, a second officer, Patrick Spradlin, told King that police are sometimes wary of blacks because of their “violent tendencies.”
For two years, the case bedeviled Austin police. Reports of rocks being thrown through windshields on Interstate 35 would arrive sporadically. Over the years, 94 incidents were reported as the mystery of rock throwing continued.
In May 2016, the rock throwing began to spike — nearly 30 reported incidents that month — and police doubled their efforts. In the end, a bit of luck resulted in the arrest of rock-throwing suspect Patrick Eugene Johnson.
The break in the case came when a University of Texas police officer driving on I-35 saw a rock being thrown and activated his patrol car’s videotape system, allowing police to identify the rock thrower’s model of car.
The 59-year-old Johnson already had lengthy criminal record and was well known to police and others for his interest in the enforcement of the towing industry; he occasionally even appeared before the Austin City Council to rail about abusive towing. He was also known for making serial reports to police, calling 911 more than 1,000 times. Johnson was also charged in an unrelated sexual assault of a child. He was later convicted and received a 99-year sentence for that crime.
In a letter to the Statesman, Johnson said he was willing to confess to throwing the rocks to avoid another trial.
Charlie Strong’s third season as coach of the Texas Longhorns was seen as make-or-break even before it began. And it began with a thrilling Texas overtime victory over 11th-ranked Notre Dame — a season-opening bright spot that would belie what lay ahead.
When the Longhorns suffered an embarrassing overtime loss at Kansas, UT officials began to engineer the exit of one coach and the quick entrance of another.
Just hours after Texas lost its final game to TCU, sealing a third straight losing season under Strong, UT was offering the top job to Tom Herman, who was just wrapping up a second 10-win season at the University of Houston.
Herman, whose coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Texas under Mack Brown, agreed to a five-year contract worth more than $5 million annually that will rise to more than $6 million.
The changes were mandated by the Texas Legislature in 2015 when it passed Senate Bill 11, the so-called campus carry law.
In the year after the law passed, college presidents and boards of regents spent months drafting rules for complying with the law — a period marked by numerous demonstrations in Austin, mostly by opponents of campus carry. Some UT-Austin faculty members lobbied for a ban on handguns in classrooms, but UT President Gregory L. Fenves said that would have amounted to a general prohibition of the weapons on campus, which the law forbids. Three faculty members who want the option of barring handguns from their classrooms sued but ultimately lost.
The new rules went into effect Aug. 1 and sparked new protests once students returned to campus, including one in which UT students wielded sex toys to make a point about what was permitted and what was not at UT these days.