Pointing Fingers

Local NAACP leaders recently announced the results of their inquiry into the June shooting death of 23-year-old Sophia King, leveling much of the responsibility on the Housing Authority of the city of Austin.

At an Aug. 1 press conference, local leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced the results of their inquiry into the June shooting death of 23-year-old Sophia King, leveling much of the responsibility on the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. Local NAACP leader Nelson Linder says inadequate security measures at the Rosewood Avenue apartments where King lived probably contributed to her death. Had the Housing Authority "had that, there would've been a buffer zone between King and the police," Linder said.

King was shot and killed June 11 by APD officer John Coffey while allegedly threatening Housing Authority manager Diana Powell with a knife in a Rosewood courtyard. A Travis Co. grand jury did not indict Coffey; results of an APD Internal Affairs Division investigation, completed July 26, have been forwarded to Police Monitor Iris Jones. Chief Stan Knee will not make any final decisions on possible disciplinary actions against Coffey until Jones' staff has finished its review, according to an Aug. 1 APD release.

Linder said the results of the NAACP investigation should serve as both a "recommendation [to] and indictment [of]" the housing authority. HACA should beef up security measures and acknowledge residents' various difficulties and situations to ensure total compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he charged. The Act "provides for certain types of considerations" for people like King with mental problems, Linder said -- for example, the Rosewood manager and police could have approached her more deliberately. "They knew she was agitated, and they banged on the door," he said. "You don't have to do that. There should have been a proper approach" that would've taken into account King's mental condition, he said.

But according to HACA lawyer Jim Ewbank, the NAACP's report is gravely flawed and inaccurate. HACA uses roving security patrols at every housing project, along with many security sub-stations, he pointed out. Furthermore, the ADA prohibits identification and "isolation" of residents based on mental or physical disabilities. "You're supposed to treat everyone the same," he said.

Ewbanks says NAACP never called the HACA for any information. In all, he asserts, the King tragedy may well rest on the "lack of personal responsibility" assumed by the responsibility of others. "The city of Austin housing authority is just that," he said. "It is not a law enforcement agency, it is not a mental health agency. This is not about how we treated Sophia King, this is about a police officer intruding and saving the life of a Housing Authority employee."

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