APD Shooting Called 'Accidental'
Officer claims accidental shooting, and DOJ asked to investigate
In the wake of last month's shooting death of an unarmed man by an Austin Police detective, the Texas Civil Rights Project and Austin NAACP are renewing a complaint previously filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, calling for an investigation into when, how, and why APD uses force in Austin. "This is the third police shooting death this year, and the sixth use of deadly force," reads the letter, signed by TCRP Director Jim Harrington. "It is very clear that the people of Austin are in great need of [DOJ] intervention yet again."
On Monday afternoon at a City Hall press conference, City Manager Marc Ott announced that he has also requested that the Department of Justice review the APD, to determine if their "tactics and practices" are consistent with department policies and with "national policing best practices." In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Robert L. Pitman, Ott also requested the DOJ's assistance in community outreach, in order to "improve trust and further strengthen" community confidence in the APD.
Ott said at the press conference that the shooting served to prompt the request for the review, but that his request should not be seen as denoting a "lack of faith in Chief [Art] Acevedo, his leadership team, or the men and women of the Austin Police Department."
On July 26, Detective Charles Kleinert shot Larry Eugene Jackson Jr. in the back of the neck, after a pursuit and a struggle under a bridge over Shoal Creek near 34th Street. Police say Kleinert had been at a nearby Benchmark Bank conducting a follow-up investigation on an earlier, and unrelated, bank robbery when Jackson came to the locked front door and twice tried to enter. Bank personnel became suspicious, and Kleinert went outside to talk to Jackson, who fled after failing to properly ID himself.
Although police initially said only that Kleinert pursued a fleeing Jackson on foot, the Chronicle later learned (and APD acknowledged) that Kleinert actually commandeered a car being driven by a civilian and had that person drive him around as he looked for Jackson. Kleinert, whose behavior was described as agitated, spotted Jackson near the bridge over Shoal Creek, and at that point, a source told us, Jackson was merely walking down the street.
Exactly what happened after Kleinert got out of the car remains unclear, but the interaction ended in Jackson's death, from a single bullet to the back of the neck. Jackson was not armed, police said. Over the weekend the Statesman reported that "sources" said that Kleinert told APD's Internal Affairs investigators that his gun fired accidentally; the daily reported no other information or details regarding the content of Kleinert's interview. (The apparent leak aggravated Austin Police Association President Wayne Vincent who, in a Monday morning email to union members, said the source of the leak – presumably one of his own – must be found and held accountable for violating "the trust of every police officer who works for the department.")
The TCRP and Austin NAACP first complained to the DOJ about APD use of force back in 2004, and repeatedly supplemented the complaint until the DOJ announced in 2007 that it would investigate. A year later the agency came back with a package of more than 160 recommendations for police improvements, including updating its policy on the use of force, its force-reporting requirements, and its process for accepting complaints about officer conduct. In closing that inquiry, the DOJ concluded that there was no "reasonable cause to believe that APD has engaged in a pattern or practice that violated the Constitution or laws of the United States," according to a May 2011 letter to the city's legal department.
Harrington now writes that recent shooting incidents indicate that those fixes didn't take. In addition to the Jackson shooting, Harrington points to the shooting in April of Herbert "Denny" Babelay, who was killed in his backyard in Montopolis by rookie officers with high-powered rifles; police say Babelay, who had a history of mental illness, brandished a shotgun and threatened the officers. He points also to an incident in May when an officer fired on – and missed – 54-year-old James Barton after Barton refused to get back into his car during a traffic stop near East 12th Street and Airport Boulevard.
The series of three incidents – of six total shooting events this year – demonstrate that "police are not being properly trained and supervised and are overreacting in situations, to the peril of citizens," Harrington wrote. He further blames the City Council for failing, as he puts it, to exercise any "management, oversight, or control over the police, even though the Council has that duty under the city charter," he wrote. "We respectfully renew our request for intervention by the Department of Justice once again."
Meanwhile, police have located a man who they now call a "possible witness" to the shooting. The white male was caught on security cameras near where the incident occurred. On Aug. 2, police released a statement saying the man had been located and interviewed, but no additional information was made available. In the interim, however, Jackson's family, which includes his four children, have hired attorney Adam Loewy, who has on several occasions sued the department on behalf of the families of shooting victims, to represent them in their dealings with the APD – including any eventual civil rights lawsuit that could be filed.
Read City Manager Marc Ott's letter to the U.S. Dept. of Justice here.