Open Questions: Forum on APD Shooting Tonight
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says that if all goes well, the department's investigations into last month's shooting death of Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr., by an APD detective will be wrapped up by the second week in September.
Indeed, as the investigations – and APD's apparent investigative missteps – continue, community activists looking for answers have scheduled a town hall meeting tonight – Carver Museum (1165 Angelina Street), 6 pm – in an effort to learn more from Acevedo and other city officials about how, and why, Jackson died.
Jackson was killed on July 26 by a bullet to the back of the neck, fired from the gun of 19-year department veteran Detective Charles Kleinert during a scuffle under a bridge over Shoal Creek near West 34th Street. Kleinert had been inside a nearby Benchmark Bank conducting a follow-up investigation to an earlier, and unrelated, bank robbery when Jackson came to the bank's locked door and tried to get inside. Unable to gain entry, Jackson left briefly before returning and trying again to enter the bank. The bank manager then went out to talk to Jackson and then reported to Kleinert that Jackson was acting suspiciously; Kleinert went out to talk with Jackson, a conversation that police say was caught on video. Jackson apparently misidentified himself and then fled. Kleinert believed that Jackson intended to "defraud" the bank and decided that he should follow on foot – and without backup – to catch the alleged fraudster. Although police initially said Kleinert chased Jackson on foot, a source later told the Chronicle that an agitated Kleinert actually commandeered a car driven by a civilian in his quest to find Jackson; when Kleinert spotted him and jumped from the car, a source told us, Jackson was merely walking down the sidewalk.
What happened after Kleinert caught up with the 32-year-old father of four is unclear, though Kleinert told police right after the encounter that the shooting was accidental, Acevedo said. That information was part of a "public safety statement," Kleinert made to supervisors directly after the shooting incident, a statement designed to allow officials to determine whether any public threats remain – such as if suspects are still on the loose. That information was not immediately provided to the public, although it could have been, Acevedo said Instead, Assistant Chief Brian Manley said in a press briefing three days after the shooting only that Jackson might have been shot accidentally. (At the time of the shooting and subsequent press briefing, Acevedo was out of state with his since-deceased mother, who was then in hospice care.)
Nonetheless, the claim that the shooting was an accident wasn't reported until Aug. 2, when the Statesman wrote that "sources" said that Kleinert told Internal Affairs investigators that the shooting had been accidental. That angered Austin Police Association President Wayne Vincent who, upset that information from a confidential IA interview was apparently leaked, at an APA press conference called for an independent investigation to determine the source of the leak. Subsequently, City Manager Marc Ott announced that he had already initiated a city-led inquiry into the alleged leak, to be conducted by city lawyers and headed up by Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald. That announcement hasn't assuaged the union's concerns, says Vincent. "It's obvious that our concerns are not being taken seriously," he said. He said that information from supposedly confidential police shooting investigations regularly leaks from the department and, while he isn't pointing fingers in any particular direction, he said he doesn't feel particularly reassured that having city bureaucrats in charge of policing themselves is such a great idea. "Where's the integrity of that operation?" he asked.
But Acevedo remains skeptical about whether and how the information was released – at least in part because the supposedly confidential information was in fact already publicly available via the public safety statement, meaning, no one actually had to "leak" it from an IA interview in order for it to be made public. "From the word go" Kleinert said it was an accident, Acevedo said. In short, the information could have come from sources outside the confidential investigation based on information that Kleinert provided to supervisors shortly after the shooting.
The decision not to release immediately definitive information that the shooting was accidental, or that Kleinert had commandeered a civilian car in his quest to chase a supposedly fleeing Jackson were not the only apparent missteps in the nearly three-week-old investigation. Indeed, in reporting the death to the Texas Attorney General – a statutory requirement for all civilians deaths that occur either in law enforcement custody (this includes all but death row inmates executed by the state) or as a result of law enforcement use-of-force – the department initially reported that the cause of Jackson's death was "justifiable homicide" and that it occurred while Jackson was resisting being "handcuffed or arrested," trying to "escape/flee from custody" and that he tried to "grab, hit or fight with the officer(s) involved," according to the Custodial Death Report completed by Sgt. Rick Shirley four days after Jackson's death. After the conclusions on that report were called into question by the daily, Cmdr. Mark Spangler said he revised the report – something he said is not uncommon during the course of shooting investigations. The AG report is due within 30 days of a person's death, but investigations are rarely, if ever, finished within that time period, meaning reports often have to be updated as an investigation unfolds. That's what happened in this case, Spangler said. In revising the report on Aug. 7, Spangler removed justifiable homicide as the "apparent manner of death," and inserted only that the manner is "pending investigation." Spangler also removed that Jackson was resisting arrest, fleeing from custody, or that he tried to fight with Kleinert, again inserting only that the matter is "pending investigation."
Spangler said the changes were made because the department doesn't yet have a full picture of what happened between Jackson and Kleinert. Still, Spangler said there was "plenty of evidence" at the scene to lead police "to believe that Detective Kleinert had been in a struggle" with Jackson before the gun went off, which is why the form was initially filled out as it was. But he said other bits of information that were originally answered in the affirmative, such as whether Jackson was "'trying to escape,' we don't know," he said. As for why Shirley would have filled out the form to say the shooting was justified, Spangler said only that early statements from Kleinert led Shirley to answer "in good faith" the way that he did.
Undoubtedly, questions about how the department filled out that report, and why it wasn't initially reported that the shooting was accidental will be raised tonight, when city officials meet with residents during the planned two-hour town hall-style meeting at the Carver Museum.
Acevedo this week said he knows that people want, and deserve, answers about what happened the afternoon Jackson was killed and that's why he's hoping the investigation will stay on the fast-track. "That is the goal. We need answers sooner rather than later," he said. "I want answers sooner rather than later; the officer deserves answers and Jackson's family deserves those answers. Period."