Is There Really a Case Against Officer Glasgow?
The grand jury indictment in the Owens shooting may be impossible to prosecute.
On Oct. 24, the supporters and family of Jessie Lee Owens, who was shot and killed in June by Austin Police Department Officer Scott Glasgow, lashed out at city and county leaders, denouncing the manner in which the inquiry into Owens' murder has been handled. At issue are APD Chief Stan Knee's decision to reinstate Glasgow's pay even though the officer is under indictment, and the "preparation" of the Glasgow indictment itself -- an indictment that in all likelihood will not result in a prosecutable case.
On Oct. 20, a Travis Co. grand jury indicted Glasgow on one count of criminally negligent homicide for the June 14 shooting on Tillery Street that left Owens dead. The shooting was the culmination of a bizarre series of events in which Glasgow ended up partially trapped, with his gun drawn, inside the driver's side door of the (reported stolen) Dodge Neon that Owens was driving. Yet the grand jury's indictment did not mention the shooting itself. Instead, it seeks to hold Glasgow responsible for Owens' death based on the chain of events leading up to the shooting, especially a series of potential procedural violations; these include Glasgow's parking his patrol car too close to the Neon and his failure to wait for a backup unit before approaching Owens.
Unfortunately, the case made in the indictment may be difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute under the Texas Penal Code definition of "criminal negligence," which presents prosecutors with a two-pronged responsibility for proving their case. The state must show that Glasgow should have known that his actions presented a "substantial and unjustifiable risk" to Owens, and also that Glasgow's actions constituted a "gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor's standpoint." The APD policies cited in the indictment set out guidelines for police behavior and practice, but are not designed as instructions for handling any given situation.
During a press conference the day the indictment was handed down, Owens' family thanked the grand jurors for their decision to indict. But at the time they had not actually read the indictment. By Friday, their opinion of that document had changed. "My lawyers are really concerned that the [indictment] will not stand any technical challenge," Owens' mother Barbara Shorts told reporters. She blamed the Travis Co. District Attorney's Office for improperly preparing the indictment. "In our criminal justice system, once the grand jury has voted, it is the duty of [Travis Co. DA] Ronnie Earle to properly prepare the indictment," she said, "to ensure that the draft ... properly reflects the grand jury's vote for indictment."
But there is a difference between proper preparation of an indictment and a grand jury's choice of an indictable charge. As a legal document, the Glasgow indictment itself is prepared properly, following the draft standard of any other indictment. The real question is whether the jurors in fact found a criminal offense for which Glasgow could be convicted. So who wrote the indictment? "The indictment was drafted pursuant to the specific instructions of the grand jury," Earle told the Chronicle, down to the "very specific language, as instructed by the grand jury."
Earle declined to elaborate, citing the confidential nature of grand jury proceedings, but the circumstances certainly prompt the question: Did the jurors actually believe they were offering a prosecutable case? Or, given the details of the case, did they instead decide to simply send a message? During the Friday press conference, Owens' great-aunt Hazel Obey said that if Earle decides not to prosecute Glasgow, her family would ask that the office seek a re-indictment.
Shorts and Obey also expressed consternation at Chief Knee's decision to reinstate Glasgow's pay during his suspension from the department, which Shorts said amounts to a taxpayer-funded "paid vacation" for her son's "murderer." In an Oct. 23 press release, Knee explained that the initial decision to suspend Glasgow without pay following the indictment was made while he was out of town and that after reviewing the case he had decided Glasgow's pay should be reinstated. The decision was "not intended to reflect on the merits of the indictment," the release continues, but "solely ... as an issue of fairness during the pending internal affairs and criminal justice process."
The explanation didn't go over well with Shorts and supporters who note that of five APD officers indicted so far on various charges in 2003, Glasgow is the only one suspended with pay. But according to APD spokesman Kevin Buchman, the other four officers were suspended without pay after "substantial completion" of an Internal Affairs inquiry into their actions. In Glasgow's case that inquiry has just begun.