Stunning $67M Verdict in APD Shooting Case

Landon Nobles verdict largest sum awarded in a police excessive-force case in Austin


Austin Police Department headquarters Downtown (Photo by John Anderson)

A Travis County jury last week awarded the family of Landon Nobles $67 million in damages in a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against Austin police, who shot the 24-year-old Black man after an altercation on East Sixth Street in May 2017.

The stunning sum far surpasses any amount awarded to families of people killed by the Austin Police Department in the past decade; those payouts cumulatively total just over $8 million. Prior to the Nobles verdict, the largest sum awarded in a police excessive force case was a $3.25 million settlement in 2017 with Ketty Sully, the mother of 17-year-old David Joseph, shot and killed by an Austin police officer in February 2016.

City officials can appeal the size of the jury award, either with the trial judge or in future proceedings. "The city acknowledges the jury verdict and will explore all options as we move forward," a spokesperson said. "The city and the officers are genuinely surprised by the verdict, both the question of liability and certainly on the dollar amount awarded."

In May 2017, Nobles was believed to have fired a gun outside of the Jacka­lope on East Sixth Street after an argument with others. Bystander phone video captured the confrontation, but Nobles is not shown firing a gun; witnesses at the trial testified he was not armed. Nobles began running after Austin police Lt. Richard Egal knocked him down with his bike. Egal and Cpl. Max Johnson viewed this movement as a threat and fired five shots, three of which struck and killed Nobles. Neither officer faced criminal charges and both are still on the force.

The verdict comes as the city and its police officers face numerous excessive force lawsuits stemming from APD's violent response to peaceful, if angry, Black Lives Matter protesters in the summer of 2020. The Nobles case was defended by city staff attorneys, who did not need to pay for outside counsel for the officers involved; that's not so in at least some of the BLM cases working their way through the courts.

In two of those cases, brought by Justin Howell and Anthony Evans, City Council has asked the Law Department and APD to pursue settlements with the victims – a move that could result in more expedient justice and fewer tax dollars spent defending the APD officers accused of using excessive force. Council also voted to reduce the amount paid to Richards Rodriguez & Skeith, the outside firm hired to defend the officers in these cases, by $189,000 in the Howell case and $210,000 in the Evans case.

"We need to do right by these injured young men and their families, rather than spend resources fighting them in court," Council Member Greg Casar said of the resolutions, which he sponsored. Council will likely be briefed in executive session, early next year, on potential settlement offers in the Howell and Evans cases, and then later on potential responses to the Nobles verdict.

This story originally stated that the initial confrontation and report of gunfire happened during the Pecan Street Festival; in fact the incident took place after the festival had ended. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Police Department, Landon Nobles, David Joseph, Ketty Sully, Richard Egal, Richards Rodriguez & Skeith, Greg Casar

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