Officer-involved shootings continue to increase in Austin, with fifth incident in 2016

Mikaela Cannizzo

A 29-year-old man was shot and killed by an Austin police officer in a South Austin Randall’s parking lot on April 22. The incident marked 2016’s fifth officer-involved shooting in Austin, contributing to this year’s slight increase in the number of shootings in the city over the past two years.

According to data from the Austin Police Department, the city of Austin has experienced 86 incidents involving an officer firing intentionally or unintentionally at a subject since 2000. In 2014, there were a total of four officer-involved shootings, and seven in 2015. As of today, there have been five in 2016. The highest number of incidents occurred in 2007 and 2013, with nine shootings in each year. Reginald Parker with APD’s Special Investigations Unit said he could not comment on the reasoning behind the increases.

The man in the Randall’s incident ran toward an officer with knives in his hands and was shot once by an officer. While the bullet killed the suspect, the officer was not injured..  

During an early morning press conference on April 23 in the Randall’s parking lot, APD Chief Art Acevedo said the incident was most likely a “suicide by cop” and that the shooting upset the officer.

“Our officer is shaken up,” Acevedo said during the press conference. “Despite what the public and critics might say that officers, [that] somehow this doesn’t impact them — I can tell you he’s very shaken up and saddened by this chain of events.”

So far, the five incidents in 2016 have resulted in three deaths and three injuries. The David Joseph shooting, in which a 17-year-old black male was shot and killed by APD officer Geoffrey Freeman, was the first death in an officer-involved shooting of the year. Acevedo announced that he indefinitely suspended Freeman on March 21 in a disciplinary memorandum.

According to data from the APD, 84 percent of incidents between 2000 and 2014 occurred outside, and 41 percent occurred at night. The most common location for an officer-involved shooting to occur was in a street or parking lot, which accounted for 55 percent of the incidents.

Parker said these types of shootings are evaluated according to an on-scene investigation and a legal proceeding.

“Officer-involved shootings are investigated criminally by the Special Investigations Unit,” Parker said. “There’s also an administrative investigation into the shooting as well.”

Once the investigation is complete, Parker said evidence is gathered and given to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office for review and later presented to the grand jury.

Data from the 2000–2014 report on APD officer-involved shootings states that 74 percent of the officers involved were white, and 45 percent had between two and five years of law enforcement experience. Thirty-five percent of suspects were black, followed by 32 percent white and 29 percent Hispanic.

Based on what she has seen in the media, journalism senior Nia Wesley believes the number of people who have been fatally shot by APD, compared with the demographics of the city, is disproportionate in terms of race and ethnicity. Moreover, she thinks officer-involved shootings have consequences for the community as a whole.

“This affects all of us,” Wesley said. “I think it’s going to take people to not look at this issue like it’s a black issue or a criminal issue; this is a human rights issue.”