Acevedo: Officer who shot naked teen has ‘tough questions’ to answer


Speaking for the first time publicly since an Austin police officer shot and killed an unarmed, naked Pflugerville-area high school student, Police Chief Art Acevedo said the officer responsible has “tough questions” to answer.

Chief among those will be if officer Geoffrey Freeman should have used a nonlethal option — a stun gun, a baton or even his fists — when 17-year-old David Joseph charged at him on Monday in Northeast Austin.

Flanked by community organizers from several organizations highly critical of the fatal shooting, Acevedo said police will conduct a thorough and fair investigation that will determine whether Freeman should be disciplined or charged for Joseph’s killing.

“We have a young man who has been killed, and my only concern right now is, were we justified?” Acevedo said. “My focus is what happened in the space of a matter of seconds between David Joseph and officer Freeman.”

In the days since Freeman encountered Joseph in a Northeast Austin neighborhood, pressure for answers has continued to mount. On Thursday, it took the form of protesters from Black Lives Matter Austin and the Austin Justice Coalition demanding that the city push for an independent investigation into the shooting.

Mayor Steve Adler called for a speedy internal investigation, asking Austin police to conclude their probe faster than the 45 days they typically have to complete their investigations into fatal police shootings.

“Your voice ensures us that we remember David Joseph, and they remind us that black lives matter,” Adler said to the protesters in front of City Hall. “The city hears you, and the country hears you.”

Acevedo urged patience and promised that his investigators would complete the investigation within 30 days. But he said he wouldn’t, at this time, initiate an independent investigation.

City Manager Marc Ott could also seek an investigation from an outside agency.

Acevedo provided a more detailed timeline of the events that preceded the shooting. He spoke for the first time about the 911 calls leading up to the incident and noted that Freeman had called for backup minutes before his encounter with Joseph.

The police account of events is that Joseph was naked when Freeman encountered him in the 12000 block of Natures Bend. When Freeman exited his patrol car, Joseph charged at him and disobeyed commands to stop before Freeman opened fire. A recording of police scanner traffic obtained by the American-Statesman suggests Joseph was shot twice in the front of his chest.

At City Hall on Thursday morning, the protesters shouted Joseph’s name while some held high signs calling for Acevedo to be fired. Inside City Council Chambers, Gene Vela, who himself survived being shot by Austin police in 2013, sat in the front row of the spectator seats holding a sign that said “Adios Acevedo mofo” in plain view.

Later, Acevedo met with leaders of the protests, including Meme Styles and Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition.

Despite their criticism of police, they praised Acevedo for sitting down with them before an extended press conference Thursday in which Acevedo allowed each of them time to speak freely about Joseph’s shooting and the state of police relations with the community. Likewise, Acevedo praised the organizers for their efforts to help make Austin police better.

“What happens in Austin has the potential to reverberate throughout America,” said Styles, who is also a lead organizer of the police data group Measure Austin.

The groups have demanded a full audit of the Austin Police Department’s use-of-force policies and encounters with the mentally ill.

Acevedo defended the department’s policies, saying they are held up as a national standard. He said that if police had known earlier on Monday that they were responding to a call that involved a naked individual, the police response would have automatically been greater. Acevedo said reports of a naked individual would lead police to believe the person is either suffering from a psychological emergency or is in a drug-induced state.

With Acevedo standing behind him, Moore said the onus was on Freeman.

“I’m not here to tell you David Joseph had a mental problem, but we knew something was wrong, and that’s where officer Freeman is guilty,” Moore said. “He didn’t take the extra time out to assess that situation properly. That’s why there is a family in North Austin in sorrow because their son is no longer here.”

Calling Austin a city that lives in its own illusion of itself, Moore said it was up to everyone, not just the police and community organizers, to recognize and work on the problems that minority and poor residents face.

“Austin is not the liberal haven that it is painted to be,” Moore said. “We need to stop saying that like it’s makeup we use to paint this city as the Wizard of Oz – the Emerald City.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

East Austin group emerges to help change Confederate school names
East Austin group emerges to help change Confederate school names

Days after the only black member of the Austin school board was criticized for publicly calling out his peers for delaying a vote on changing school names with ties to the Confederacy, more than a dozen parents, educators, lawyers and community leaders have formed a work group to push the changes forward. The group of 15, formed by the East Austin...
12 flu outbreaks reported in Williamson County since Jan. 10
12 flu outbreaks reported in Williamson County since Jan. 10

The Williamson County and Cities Health District has investigated 12 outbreaks of flu this week, according to a news release. Ten of those outbreaks were at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and two were at day care facilities, according to the release. The first outbreak was Jan. 10 and the last one was reported Monday, said Deb Strahler...
AISD makes this surprise announcement benefiting Garcia boys school
AISD makes this surprise announcement benefiting Garcia boys school

The Austin school district now will offer transportation to any middle school student who wants to attend Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy. The move could boost student enrollment for the school of 400, which is well below capacity. “It’s a different opportunity to get more students in to this amazing school,” said Superintendent...
Deputies: 2 arrested after 3-month-old child, 51 pounds of heroin, found in SUV
Deputies: 2 arrested after 3-month-old child, 51 pounds of heroin, found in SUV

Deputies in Mississippi arrested two women Monday night on suspicion of drug trafficking after authorities said they found 51 pounds of heroin and a 3-month-old child in an SUV the women were driving. A deputy pulled over a Ford SUV on Interstate 20 in Rankin County on Monday night for an unspecified traffic violation. Authorities said that during...
TRAFFIC UPDATE: Lanes cleared on I-35 near Oltorf following crash
TRAFFIC UPDATE: Lanes cleared on I-35 near Oltorf following crash

3:08 p.m. update: All lanes have been cleared, according to city officials. Earlier: A crash on Interstate 35 has blocked two southbound lanes near Woodward Street, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. The agency says to expect delays, as traffic is backed up to Holly Street.
More Stories