The story of Larry Jackson, Jr., a black Austin resident who was shot and killed by APD Detective Charles Kleinert last summer, moved one step closer to resolution this week: After a full investigation, a grand jury issued an indictment for Kleinert on the charge of manslaughter.
This is notable news in a city that has seen dozens of investigations of APD shootings in recent years, but has not seen an indictment of an officer since the 2003 shooting death of Jessie Lee Owens led to a charge of negligent homicide (and, later, a dismissal) for APD officer Scott Glasgow.
The details of Jackson’s case drew significant attention: The 32-year-old father of three visited Benchmark Bank on West 35th Street on July 26, 2013, late in the afternoon on the same day that the bank had been robbed. According to police, Jackson attempted to open the bank’s door, which had been locked as bank staff and police discussed the robbery. Jackson initially turned away after discovering the locked door, then attempted to open it again; at this point, the bank manager approached Jackson. The bank manager reported to Kleinert that Jackson had misidentified himself, and Kleinert began questioning Jackson. After a moment, Jackson left the scene on foot, and Kleinert pursued him, at one point commandeering a car to find Jackson. After spotting Jackson, Kleinert engaged in a struggle with the man, which ended with Jackson dead of a bullet wound in the back of his head.
Austin police claimed after the shooting that Jackson had visited the bank with the intention of defrauding it, though that claim raised more questions than it answered: How did APD know Jackson’s intentions? How would Jackson have defrauded a closed bank? Is misidentifying yourself to a bank manager something that police need to investigate by commandeering a vehicle?
Those questions, ostensibly, were on the grand jury’s mind as they issued the indictment yesterday.
If Kleinert felt it necessary to pursue Jackson, we would presume it was because he was suspicious of Jackson, though we don’t know what specifically triggered that response. But it is easy to create an innocent-enough narrative for Jackson’s actions, if one is inclined. There’s nothing inherently suspicious about a person trying to open a bank’s door twice when it’s locked during business hours, and it’s not illegal to give a fake name to a person who works for a bank who’s asking you questions on the street. And after Kleinert began questioning Jackson, presumably about a bank robbery that he had nothing to do with, it’s not even unreasonable to think that he felt he was in danger from the officer and ran out of a sense of self-preservation—a presumption that seems especially reasonable when one considers that the encounter ultimately ended with Jackson’s death at Kleinert’s hands.
The fact that an indictment has been issued speaks to how exceptional the story of Jackson and Kleinert is, though. In the past five years, the Austin American-Statesman reports, 25 cases involving police shootings have been sent to grand juries in Austin, and none of those resulted in charges. They include cases like the shooting deaths of Nathaniel Sanders Jr., for whom the city paid out $750,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit, and of Ahmede Bradley, whose family is currently pursuing a federal lawsuit.
All of this leads, ultimately, to the important, and infrequently discussed, subject of race in Austin. Jackson—like Sanders and Bradley, and like Byron Carter Jr., and Kevin Brown, also shot and killed by Austin police in recent years—was a black man, and for all of the much-discussed progressivism of Austin, four unarmed black men have recently been killed by Austin police. These tragedies have led to grassroots efforts to monitor police actions, like the formation of groups like the People’s Task Force and the Peaceful Streets ProjectNelson Linder of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, which has filed complaints against APD, has lamented the lack of indictments in the past; last year, he told Fox News Austin that until officers face criminal charges, lawsuits are insufficient
Linder has filed two complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice against APD: once in 2002 and then again in 2012.
He has a standing title six complaint, which he filed in 2004. It means he feels there is a pattern of racist behavior at APD. He is asking the government to intervene and possibly withhold federal funding.
“Until people say look we’ve had enough. I’m talking about city council, city manager and most importantly Lehmberg’s office, we’re fighting a tremendous battle,” said Linder. “Until we indict people it’s not going to stop. There’s no way to stop this without sending people to jail.”