Carter Family Files Civil Rights Suit Against Officer and City

Suit claims officer used excessive force

Byron Carter
Byron Carter (Courtesy of Department of Public Safety)

The family of Byron Carter, the 20-year-old man killed during a May police shooting, today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the shooter, Austin Police Officer Nathan Wagner, and the city of Austin.

The suit alleges that Wagner used excessive force when, on May 30, he shot and killed Carter, the passenger in a car parked near Downtown. The city was complicit in denying Carter's civil rights, claim the Carters, by failing to adequately train and supervise APD's officers, and by employing "deadly force disproportionately against minorities," among other failings.

According to the APD, on the night of May 30, Wagner and his bike-beat partner, Officer Jeffrey Rodriguez, spied Carter and his 16-year-old friend (who has not been named because of his age) casing a residential area just east of I-35, possibly looking to steal a car. The cops followed the pair but at some point lost sight of them, police have said. When the cops saw the pair again, it was just before the teen deliberately drove a vehicle the two were in toward Rodriguez, pinning him against a parked car on Eighth Street. Fearing for his partner's life, police have said, Wagner fired several shot into the car, wounding the teen driver and killing Carter.

That is not at all how the lawsuit filed today by Carter family attorney Adam Loewy characterizes the deadly encounter. Instead, he argues that the deadly scene was caused by cops who decided the pair were up to no good and killed without cause.

Indeed, according to the initial pleading, Carter and the teen took the 16-year-old's car Downtown that night to meet friends. At roughly 11pm they walked back to the car, just East of I-35, to head home. "Unbeknownst" to Carter and his friend, reads the lawsuit, they were being followed by APD Officers Wagner and Rodriguez – but not because they were casing the parked cars, the lawsuit argues, but "simply because they were young, African-American males in a gentrified part of downtown Austin."

Still unaware they were being followed, the pair got into the car, the suit alleges, and were beginning to pull away from the curb when "out of nowhere, and from a dimly lit area," Wagner and Rodriguez ran "up to the car with their guns drawn." Neither officer identified themselves as police, reads the pleading, and instead, "without any warning whatsoever" Wagner opened fire into the car, striking Carter "repeatedly in the head and body."

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, the lawsuit reads. Instead, it is another killing in a string of "unjustified shootings against African-American males" that Loewy terms a "systemic problem" that places Austin out of step with other cities of similar size and demographic makeup.

Although the teen was initially charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, a Travis County grand jury last week declined to indict him on any charges in connection with the shooting incident.

Wagner is being sued personally for using excessive force during the encounter that ended in Carter's death. The city has been named as responsible for violating Carter's rights by failing to adequately train, supervise, and investigate officers "regarding their use of force"; for employing "excessive force against minorities" – and in particular for employing deadly force "disproportionately" against minorities; and for employing "inadequate warning systems to discipline and/or weed out potentially dangerous officers." The city has been aware of these shortcomings, the suit continues, but has repeatedly failed to address them, placing officers "in recurring situations in which the constitutional violations described within this complaint would result. Accordingly, these policies also made it highly predictable that the particular violations alleged here would result."

The APD investigation into the incident remains ongoing, yet Loewy says he felt compelled to file suit now because he says the city has failed to provide any information to Carter's family about the death of their son – in part by blocking the family's attempts to obtain a copy of Carter's autopsy report. "We have repeatedly asked the City, District Attorney [Rosemary Lehmberg] and Police Monitor [Margo Frasier] to explain why Byron was killed and they have all refused to talk to us or give us any information," Loewy wrote in an email. "That is unacceptable. My clients deserve to know why their son was killed and we are confident this lawsuit will provide answers."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More APD
Cop Suspended for Pepper Spraying Handcuffed Arrestee
Cop Suspended for Pepper Spraying Handcuffed Arrestee
APD patrol officer Caldwell benched for 45 days

Chase Hoffberger, Aug. 30, 2016

Buehler's Civil Case Dismissed, for Now
Buehler's Civil Case Dismissed, for Now
Cop watch activist plans to appeal

Chase Hoffberger, Feb. 23, 2015

More Cops
Austin Cop Involved in Fatal Shooting Retires While Investigation Ongoing
Austin Cop Involved in Fatal Shooting Retires While Investigation Ongoing
Criminal inquiry continues, but internal investigation closed

Jordan Smith, Oct. 22, 2013

No Jury Trial For DA Lehmberg
No Jury Trial For DA Lehmberg
Judge will decide whether to remove elected official

Jordan Smith, Oct. 18, 2013

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

APD, Austin Police Department, officer-involved shooting, Byron Carter, Adam Loewy, Courts, civil rights lawsuit, excessive force, use of force, police shooting, cops

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle