Byron Carter, Jr.'s unjustified homicide by APD is a make or break case for Acevedo's reputation as a change agent.
How many more young African-American and Hispanic men must die before our city leadership acknowledges that we –still– have a problem in our police Department?
How many more contentious, community-splitting debates and public payouts to bereaved and injured families must occur before our Police department changes its shoot to kill policy?
How many more complaints, protests, speeches, community coalitions, letters, feature stories, resolutions, town hall meetings and memorials must occur before the demands of our citizens are finally acknowledged and acted upon?
I say not one more. Let Byron Carter, Jr.’s unnecessary death finally be the catalyst for real change.
Acevedo must decide within the next 72 hours whether Carter’s killer will be held accountable from a departmental standpoint (a Grand Jury has not yet considered whether legal charges will be brought). Will he fire him for unjustifiably shooting an unarmed youth, or fire both officers for lying…as it’s becoming clear that both are? Acevedo is on record - before he was hired - saying he would fire any officer for lying.
DOJ SPOKE TOO SOON
The Department of Justice (DOJ) came here four years ago to study why we had proportionately high unarmed youth of color dying at the hands of our police. They closed their use of force investigation three days prior to this shooting, but this incident may well have made a distinct difference in their response. Instead of breaking down critical incidents and assessing which were and weren’t justified, as the community understood they were going to do, in addition to a few final recommendations, they closed out the last segment of the inquiry by specifically noting the improvements at APD.
It’s likely the DOJ thought that between the one very questionable shooting death (Sanders) and the somewhat “cleaner” one (Contreras had a gun even if he wasn’t aiming it at anyone), there wasn’t enough evidence of a pattern under him, although, we thought, their charge was to look at the past 15-20 years of shootings. It’s likely that because he was so responsive to the policy recommendations, they granted him something of a pass…or a vote of confidence. Much like Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize as an “incentive” to end a war or two.
Unfortunately, much like the Nobel committee’s charge isn’t to award peace prizes based on the potential for peace, the DOJ’s charge isn’t to judge excessive force by the potential for it’s curbing.
As it stands, for all the good brought to APD, we still have unarmed youth of color being killed by police officers.
THE PREDICTABLY SHORT HONEYMOON
Art Acevedo swooped into town in the spring of 2007 and charmed us all. Upon his hiring that summer, he gave us our long-sought disciplinary matrix! He got rid of some dead weight. He made policy changes. He made improvements in training and set a new tone for a more responsive, less brutal department. He got out and about in the community at every opportunity. The gains were measurable; the signs, hopeful.
Kevin Brown was shot by Michael Olsen just prior to Chief Acevedo taking leadership, but he did get charged with disciplining Olsen, and did the right thing in firing him. Had Stan Knee earlier fired Olsen for the 2002 brutal treatment of Jeffrey Thornton, as captured on the Texas Lottery videocameras on 6th St., Brown would still be alive today. It seemed clear with the 2007 firing of Olsen that unlike Knee, Acevedo wasn’t going to put up with excessive force under his watch.
But since then, there’s not been one firing for unjustified lethal force, much less excessive force – in his four and a half years of leadership. There was his public exposing of video of an officer unjustly tasering an African-American motorist he pulled over on Mopac, admonishing him and setting an “example” for all to follow…but the Chief considered that humiliation his discipline.
There’s been firings for lying, investigative failings, drugs, alcohol/DWI and hanging out with prostitutes, but none related to abuse of power/racial profiling or unjustified force, and that’s what still pervades the force and continues to foster distrust with the community. Profiling and force have not decreased under Acevedo.
There’s been four incidents in his tenure where it isn’t disputable someone pointed a gun at officers, although one or two of them might have been averted had key family members been brought in to talk someone down or specialists (psychologists or conflict resolution experts) to mitigate the situation before SWAT bust in. When someone is holed up in a home alone with a gun…time is on your side, but patience is not APD’s greatest virtue.
The point is that, under his watch, Chief Acevedo hasn’t disciplined any officer over, or even questioned circumstances around, any lethal force. He has yet to see a shooting death he didn’t like.
He wants so badly to have a “clean” record as Chief as far as the dead bodies go, that he can’t fathom a lethal mistake….except the one that happened just before he got here…where it was Knee’s fault.
MR. I’M STICKING TO IT!
And while I’m getting my Psychology 101 on, his bigger problem is that he makes up his mind from the get-go. Before seeing all the evidence…before seeing how eventually-revealed evidence completely undermines his officers’ initial stories, he decides exactly what happened, and by God, he sticks to it.
Hours after Nathaniel Sanders died, Acevedo said, on camera, it was “a good shooting;” that there was a struggle for the gun. There was not, as expert opinions via KeyPoint and civil suit discovery shows—there were only 4 seconds between his waking and the first bullet that took his life; it took that long for Quintana to stumble back behind the car. Also, there were no fingerprints on the gun. But the “struggle” scenario would be the story forevermore, despite the evidence and the City’s first-ever wrongful death settlement where the officer wasn’t fired for it.
Hours after Devin Contreras died, still at the scene, Acevedo said the officer did the right thing and when I asked if he had seen the video yet, he said, “no, I haven’t made it back to the station yet.” My jaw dropped. He simply took the word of the officer that Contreras shot his gun first and went on camera saying such. So that became the public story…but it was too late, despite the evidence that showed Contreras didn’t shoot his gun.
Byron Carter is another victim of his faulty, prejudiced when it comes to lethal actions by his department.
Of course, all these fictions APD creates include loudly touting any criminal history of the deceased. If they paint them “thugs,” people won’t care if they died. It’s de-facto justified, so they think. Too bad for them that’s not the way the law works…hence the civil lawsuits – and the settlements.
Ace’s boss, Marc Ott does nothing to correct this, much less our elected officials who are the boss of Ott. In fact, there’s much evidence, especially in Ott’s case, that they enable it by not disciplining him, and going so far as helping him, if not leading him, to cover it up. Keypoint-Gate, anyone?
GOING HOME TO GRANDMA
This time, there's no excusing the death because of any gun in the car, much less in the hand, much less an excuse of previous wrongdoing/probable cause – despite what was initially put out in the media, yet again…
The officers said they saw the victims, 19-year old Byron Carter, Jr., and his 16 year old friend, "casing cars," but lost them and then supposedly found them later getting into a car--which was their own—despite what APD reported to media in the days following.
But, as always, the truth seeps out well after the false story is planted in the public consciousness.
According to the lawsuit, it looks as if the officers saw two African-American youth, mistook them for the earlier car casers and tried to stop them from leaving by shooting up their car. Then they crafted a tall tale realizing how seriously they just screwed up. (It should be noted Austin police have a union contractual right the rest of us don’t enjoy: they don’t have to answer to investigators for 48 hours following a critical incident.) But it seems 48 hours is still not enough to cover your tracks…see below the story, “FACTS AND HOLES.”
What’s not in question is that either one officer or both fired four shots into Carter’s body.
Now that the truth is coming out, it certainly looks like these young men saw two guys in the dark (in dark clothes) running toward them, guns pointed at them, right after they got in and started their car. There is no evidence that officers identified themselves. The young men, naturally, high-tailed it out of their parking space as gunfire poured into their car—whether they did that before gunfire started or after is irrelevant, they thought they were in danger. Whether they hit a car that rolled into one of the officers that they couldn’t see at that point (being that the parked car was obscuring his position), is irrelevant too, as officers are trained to position themselves safely in these situations. They were trying to simply stay alive; they didn’t have TIME to use the car as a weapon.
THE OLD SWITCHAROONIE
The Grand Jury DROPPED CHARGES on the surviving 16 year old, the driver. This is frankly remarkable – Grand Juries do not fail to find fault with African-American youth charged with attempted murder of a police officer, EVER.
Funny thing is, His Chiefness loves to call me on the phone or get in front of news cameras to gloat when Grand Juries fail to indict his officers over something, as if that means something. It doesn’t when the reason for that is the D.A. withholds key evidence that would allow them to legally indict – so she can get her next police union contributions. Yet in this particular case, he’s gone on record to paint the Grand Jury as either incompetent or biased towards the 16 year old (as if there is any precedence to that) by saying they had plenty of evidence to do so, but chose not to.
This, of course, insinuates HE has plenty of evidence to defend his officer…hence the concern he isn’t planning to do the right thing and fire him (or both).
But the Grand Jury hasn’t addressed the officer yet, and they almost always have him cleared well before the police Internal Affair report is done (don’t ask how they can judge something not yet investigated—that just seems to be accepted across the board).
But if the Grand Jury doesn’t indict the officer (Lehmberg hasn’t met an officer she wanted to indict in her tenure as District Attorney), then we have a serious problem. There’s a dead body with 4 bullet holes in it and no one’s at fault? It was an accident???
And similarly, if the Chief doesn’t fire the officer(s), but the officer(s) gets indicted, then what? How will he explain that away?
No matter what these young men were doing prior to getting in the car, and no matter what they were doing as the car was moving, shooting the passenger 4 times all over his body was in no way, shape or form justifiable. Shooting the passenger neither prevents the car from hurting an officer or prevents the car from leaving the scene (although shooting to prevent someone leaving is not justifiable, by law, unless the person poses an imminent threat to the public safety and casing cars doesn’t).
Nelson Linder of the NAACP-Austin told the Citizen Review Panel a week ago, the officers “should be fired, no questions asked.” He said the shooting was indefensible and the most disturbing case of police brutality that he'd seen in a decade.
Bryon was going home to Grandma. He called her 15 minutes prior to being shot (while he was “casing cars”?) and said he’d be home soon, having no idea what was about to prevent that from happening. No idea, of course, because he wasn’t doing anything that would threaten his own demise.
FACTS AND HOLES
--5/30/11: 2 APD officers on foot shot at 2 African-American youth in a car that belonged to the driver
-- Byron Carter, Jr., 20, was an unarmed passenger and was shot dead with 4 bullets to his body from a wide range of angles
--the 16 year old driver (name not released) was shot in the arm, and survived
--the 16 year old drove to Disch-Faulk parking lot and walked home where he was apprehended
(read III.B “Night of the Shooting” in the civil lawsuit)
--they say they thought the youth were casing cars earlier; that they tried to follow them but lost them
--they then spotted and ran towards two African-American suspects getting into a car, and were certain these were the same two casing cars earlier, in fact, they were certain that the car they were in was stolen (it wasn’t) and that was the sole reason they were attempting to detain them in the first place
--they said they were attempting to escape and used the car as a weapon against the officers
--the police said one of the officers got pinned between two cars (and this is where it gets fuzzy: at first the story was between the suspects car and the adjacent parked vehicle…then the story was that it between the adjacent parked vehicle and the parked vehicle adjacent to that
--the officer that got hit got hit fell to the ground
--Officer Rodriguez hurt his ankle…suffering a “ruptured Achilles tendon” –one account said both officers were injured, but didn’t mentioned how Wagner was inured
--Rodriguez getting hit by this parked car and falling to the ground was actually rarely mentioned in the media stories…it is unclear if the car made physical contact with him at all or if he just fell on his own trying to get to safety or trying to get to a better shooting position
-- it’s clear by the statements Wagner didn’t see Rodriguez fall, he just saw him after he was already on the ground, as Acevedo noted in the press conference: “Wagner heard Rodriguez scream as he fell;” Wegner said about Rodriguez he “feared he was pinned” or was “afraid he was trapped”; it’s unclear what Rodriguez reported himself – that has not been mentioned in media - conveniently.
--there’s no explanation of how Rodriguez would have been "pinned and being dragged under the car" when the car he was supposedly “pinned” by was a parked car in between him and the moving vehicle. If Rodriguez was hit so hard by this parked vehicle, such that Wagner thought he’d be drug along the street by a parked vehicle, then why are there no other injuries to Rodriguez above his ankle where a fender would make contact?
-- the uninjured officer shot at suspects "through the windshield" – so how did Carter get a bullet to the back of his head? Did only Wagner shoot at the “suspects” or did Rodriguez shoot too? If so, why was this not reported? If Rodriguez was shooting, then how did he do it while on the ground, being drug by a parked car?