A police-related death in Austin has made the pages of Reason. I’m not sure yet that it fits the paradigm of brutal police killing, not sure that it doesn’t. That’s partly because the details released make little sense. And it’s partly because few high up in the city’s government are talking about it.
Police Chief Art Acevedo had been silent about it, delegating the task of publicly addressing it to subordinates. He finally took a few minutes off from his gun control lobbying efforts and sanctuary city advocacy to talk about it Tuesday. He told local press that it’s a bad idea to run from police.
On Tuesday in an interview with News Radio KLBJ radio Chief Art Acevedo fired back, saying, “We’ve had six officer involved shootings we’re still 50 percent lower than the rest of the country.” Acevedo promised a thorough criminal and administrative investigation but urged critics to let it happen. “No matter how quickly people want answers we have to follow very specific protocol,” Acevedo explained. He also sent a warning that running from the police is a bad idea.
Yeah, in general, it is. Their cars are probably faster than yours if you’re driving, and they’re carrying guns. Plus, the vast majority of the time, they’re actually right. We tend to focus mostly on the few times police get things wrong. So what happened in this case?
As near as anyone outside Austin PD can tell, 32-year-old Larry Eugene Jackson Jr. tried to get into the Benchmark Bank at 4 pm Friday afternoon. It was locked because of an earlier, unrelated bank robbery, but staff were still on hand. Police detectives were apparently in the bank investigating that earlier robbery when Jackson tried to get in twice. The bank manager spoke with Jackson outside the bank and determined that he was presenting inaccurate identification. One detective, Charles Kleinert, had a brief conversation with Jackson — and then Jackson ran and Kleinert pursued.
It gets weird at this point. According to the nearly detail-free statement from the APD, Kleinert never called for back-up. He first chased Jackson on foot, then “employed” a civilian car to pursue him. That’s atypical police tactics, to say the least, outside cop shows. Kleinert then got out of the car, caught up with Jackson, a scuffle ensued and Jackson ended up dead — shot in the back of the neck. The entire chase took just a quarter mile.
Let’s add some more weird to the story. While I was driving back from a TV gig Monday afternoon I tuned in to the Jeff Ward Show on KLBJ radio. Ward is the main local talk show host in town. A caller, “Justin,” called into Ward’s show with what he claimed was an inside story on why Jackson ran from the detective. Justin told Ward that he was having drinks with a bunch of friends when one his friends’ phone rang. The bank and the police were on the other end of the line, telling Justin’s friend that there was a man at the bank with all of his personal information — his address, Social Security number, his wife’s name, where they both worked, and more. The man was attempting to use that information to drain the friend’s bank account. The friend told the bank and police not to let the man have anything, then the conversation ended. Justin said the friend was “pretty shook up.” Twenty minutes later, the police called back. Justin said that after the second conversation was over, the friend said that the police told him that the man who had tried to drain his bank accounts was dead.
Now, Justin’s story isn’t corroborated in any hard way, but it does turn out that Jackson was well known to the police. He had had six prior arrests and at least two convictions. Get a load of the most recent conviction.
His two most recent convictions came after arrests in 2008 for assault and financial instrument forger. That type of charge is made when police arrest someone for falsifying a check, money order or financial transaction card.
So Justin’s story takes on some added weight, and builds upon what the bank manager apparently discovered when he spoke with Jackson outside the bank.
What we may have had Friday afternoon is a repeat offender who realized that he was speaking with a police detective who had figured him out. He may have realized that he was facing a third conviction. The detective may have advised him that he was under arrest. So he ran. When the creative Detective Kleinert caught him, things fell apart.
Frustratingly, though, Austin PD hasn’t explained very much. Is it typical for a detective to not call for back-up when pursuing a suspect, then commandeer someone’s car in pursuit of what appeared at the time to be a non-violent repeat offender? How’d the guy get shot in the back of the neck? Did the detective ever place Jackson under arrest? Police say they’re investigating whether the detective fired intentionally or his gun went off accidentally. Accidental discharges of police weapons are quite rare, but in a scuffle? Sure, it’s possible. The detective should be able to answer without much investigation needed — he was there, after all. He’s on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation, which is typical in a police shooting.
Mayor Leffingwell is coming under fire for maintaining radio silence, too. The usual civil rights groups have taken the city’s silence as an occasion to stir up racial angles — Kleinert, the detective with 19 years of experience and commendations on his record, is white, while Jackson is black. The NAACP is accusing the bluest city in the state of having a racial problem, which is possible, but ironic. They city’s collective bargaining agreement with the police union may be to blame here for silencing city officials, union rules being what they are, but the civil rights groups won’t pause long enough to consider that possibility. None of the city’s liberals will come out to note the possibility either. It all may be one more argument against unionizing police, if the collective bargaining agreement really is tripping up the investigation of a man’s death. Or it may be that the city’s top brass have other reasons they don’t want to talk.
Outside all of that, a man has been killed in some kind of altercation with police, and the city just wants some answers.