Austin Officer Fired for Shooting at Fleeing Suspect
Chief says actions were reckless
By Jordan Smith, 7:27AM, Tue. Oct. 16, 2012
Although Austin Police Officer Chris Allen was no-billed last month by a Travis County jury in connection with his actions trying to stop a fleeing car thief in Southwest Austin last year, those same actions are what prompted Chief Art Acevedo on Oct. 12 to fire Allen.
On Dec. 5, 2011, Allen, a seven-year veteran, and probationary officer Justin Cummings responded to a call to assist Travis County Sheriff's deputies who were pursuing Todd Michael Zurovetz who was allegedly driving a stolen car. With the TCSO in pursuit, Zurovetz reportedly led the officers on a high-speed chase before abandoning the car on Aspen Creek Parkway, a tree-lined residential neighborhood just west of Brodie Lane. Instead of surrendering, Zurovetz broke into a home (the homeowners fled the house on foot) and stole the keys to another car, which he backed out the driveway and attempted to drive away in. Zurovetz ended up crashing that car, however, after Allen fired 14 rounds at him, striking him in the shoulder, side and wrist. Zurovetz reportedly tried again to flee, but was eventually taken into custody.
Although the grand jury cleared Allen of any criminal wrongdoing in connection with the incident, Acevedo found that Allen acted "negligently and recklessly" in a way that posed a "great safety risk to other officers and citizens." According to a disciplinary memo, when Allen showed up at the Aspen Creek address he failed to check in with other officers and when the homeowners fled from their house, telling Allen that Zurovetz was inside, Allen gave the wrong address (3708 Leadville) over the police radio. When Zurovetz ultimately appeared, backing the newly-stolen car out of the driveway, Allen failed to follow his training for "high risk" approaches and "without communicating his intent" approached the car, raised his gun and, as Zurovetz drove away, fired four rounds through the driver side window. When Zurovetz kept driving, Allen pulled off another 10 shots while running down the block behind the car, Acevedo wrote.
To make matters worse, Acevedo wrote, Allen's statements to police investigating the incident "were not supported by the evidence and in many aspects were contradicted by the evidence." Indeed, Allen apparently said first that he backed away from the car as it pulled down the drive and then later that the vehicle was coming toward him, which is what prompted him to fire his weapon. Moreover, Allen told investigators that he didn't recall running down the street while firing his gun. All of the "potential risks" – not only to civilians, but also to other officers who could've caught a stray bullet – "should have been weighed by Officer Allen in his decision to continue firing at the vehicle as it drove away," Acevedo wrote. "That Officer Allen could not even remember running down the street and firing his weapon 10 additional times without being shown the video of him doing so is deeply disturbing to me."
Allen, who reportedly has no serious record of discipline, may appeal his termination (in civil service parlance, an indefinite suspension) to an independent arbitrator.