News Roundup: Tragedies and Textbooks

Another officer-involved shooting; Waco shootout update

William Slade Sullivan with his mother Rosemary
William Slade Sullivan with his mother Rosemary (Courtesy of Rosemary Sullivan)

In this week's News Roundup: A man is shot by APD after an allegedly reaching for a gun; a grand jury declines to indict the Round Rock officers responsible for fatally injuring a man in 2014; an educator highlights how 2010 textbooks white-out history following this month's growing controversy over the Confederate flag; and more.

• Another weekend, another officer-involved shooting: Austin police shot and killed a 62-year-old man in Southwest Austin, near Oak Hill, Sunday morning just after midnight.

According to APD, police were called after a woman realized that the man – later identified as David Lepine – was following her in his pickup truck. Officers were questioning him outside his home shortly after midnight when he suddenly fled from their detainment. Assistant Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters during a 5:30am media briefing that the officers then ordered Lepine to put his hands up. Moments later, an officer saw him reaching into the back of his shorts. Manley said video from the patrol cars shows the officers yelling "he has a gun" and "put it down" just before one officer shot the 62-year-old. Manley also said the police found Lepine's gun at the scene shortly after the shooting.

KVUE reported Sunday evening that Lepine had an extensive criminal history that included charges of assault with intent to murder a police officer.

The officer who shot Lepine has been placed on administrative leave, as is standard with officer-involved shootings. Manley said he’s been with APD for one year, but has police experience elsewhere. This was the sixth death resulting from an officer-involved shooting in 2015, and the third in two weeks. – Chase Hoffberger

• No Indictment for Round Rock Officers: A Travis County grand jury declined to indict Round Rock Police Department Sergeant Nathan Zoss and Officer Kristen Mayo for injuries sustained to 44-year-old William Slade Sullivan, an obese and disabled man who died in the hospital last August. On March 21, 2014, Sullivan was drunk and sitting in his truck outside of the Rick's Cabaret in Round Rock while charging his phone when Zoss and Mayo demanded that he step out of his vehicle. When he didn't, the two officers forcible pulled him out, slamming him to the ground. The incident left him paralyzed.

A press release sent from District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s desk notes that the officers “asked him repeatedly” to exit his truck and shut his door when Zoss and Mayo tried to open it. It adds that the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office "found that Sullivan died as the result of complications of blunt force trauma with a significant factor of ankylosing spondylitis, a pre-existing inflammatory disease that causes vertebra to fuse together, limiting or preventing spinal flexibility." – C.H.

• White-Out: As Confederate flags come tumbling down, and calls to remove statues of slavery-supporting leaders take hold, renewed focus has turned to Texas social studies textbooks. The controversial books – which hit public schools next month – underwent jaw-dropping historical revisions by a majority uber-conservative State Board of Education in 2010. Hoping to tilt "liberal" academia closer to the right, the 15-member board grossly downplayed slavery and segregation while propping up biblical principles and religious influences on the nation’s founding. For instance, "states' right" are listed before slavery as causes of the Civil War, while the Ku Klux Klan and the Jim Crow laws never appear during or after Reconstruction; additionally, racial segregation is only briefly mentioned. And students are required to read president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis' inaugural speech (no mention of slavery) but not the speech by Vice President Alexander Stephens, who attributed the impetus to the the Civil War with the wish to maintain slavery.

Dan Quinn with education watchdog Texas Freedom Network says it's doubtful the SBOE will revisit the issue at this point but hopes that the current climate will lead teachers to more closely examine what they teach when it comes to Civil War and its causes. "It's little wonder that our society is still fighting about the Confederate flag and statues and memorials honoring the Confederacy 150 years after the Civil War ended," Quinn tells the Chronicle. "Generations of schoolchildren have been taught that the Confederacy fought for a noble cause like 'states' rights' when, in fact, Confederate leaders at the time and historians today have made clear that the southern states seceded and went to war to protect white supremacy and the institution of slavery.

"Unfortunately, the new history textbooks going into public school classrooms in Texas this fall perpetuate that 'states' rights' myth," Quinn continues. "And that's largely because politicians on the State Board of Education insisted that publishers do so." – Mary Tuma

Justice, Waco-style: Concerns about prosecutions over the May 17 gunfight involving bikers and police in Waco grow (see "Waco Motorcycle Shooting Fallout," May 22), with the announcement that Waco PD Detective James Head will be foreman of the grand jury considering charges against 177 people arrested at the scene.

Head has done little to alleviate fears of a conflict of interest: When asked by the Waco Herald-Tribune if he was involved in the investigation, he replied "not really" and referred all other questions to the Waco city attorney. In a statement to CNN, Judge Ralph Strother, who selected Head as foreman, said "Who would know the law better than an officer?"

Clinton Broden, attorney for one of the arrested bikers, is less convinced of Head's fairness. He wrote a letter to the court, comparing Head's appointment to the episode of I Love Lucy in "which the same police officer who stopped Ricky for speeding in a small Southern town was also the judge and jury at his trial on the speeding ticket."

The initial law enforcement narrative – that the shooting was a fight between the Cossacks and Los Bandidos motorcycle clubs – has come under increasing criticism, exacerbated by the slow release of autopsy and ballistic reports. Concerns grew with last week's court ruling to withhold security footage from the Twin Peaks restaurant parking lot where the shootings occurred from everyone but the prosecution and defense attorneys. Broden's law firm responded to the restriction by posting online footage of the incident from cameras at the neighboring Don Carlos Mexican Restaurant. – Richard Whittaker

This story has been updated to correctly note David Lepine’s age.

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