Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo fired a 10-year department veteran Monday in the shooting death of an unarmed, naked teen — the outcome of an internal investigation that moved at an accelerated clip amid demands from some in the community for a speedy resolution.
Officer Geoffrey Freeman, 42, used unjustified lethal force on Feb. 8 by firing twice at 17-year-old David Joseph, according to a nine-page disciplinary memo. Freeman also was found to have violated department policies on response to resistance, encountering people exhibiting symptoms of substance-induced delirium and neglect of duty.
“My family is glad to hear that Officer Freeman will not hurt any other unarmed Black men,” David Joseph’s brother, Fally Joseph, said in a statement. “When he took my brother away from us, he stole something no one can ever give us back. We are glad to know that the City of Austin thinks David’s life mattered, and that officer Freeman will not be on the streets again.”
This is the first time in more than eight years that an Austin officer has lost his job because of a fatal shooting.
Freeman, who said he shot because he feared being overpowered by the teen, will appeal the decision to an independent arbitrator, said officials with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. The firing concludes the internal investigation, but Travis County prosecutors are still investigating Joseph’s death and plan to present the case to a grand jury for a possible indictment against Freeman in coming weeks.
“CLEAT will use the resources necessary to ensure that officer Freeman’s good name is restored and that he will be back to work serving the community he’s called home all of his life,” said Charley Wilkison, executive director of CLEAT.
The shooting near Interstate 35 and Tech Ridge Drive prompted immediate controversy, with many in the community questioning Freeman’s use of deadly force on a suspect who had no ability to conceal a weapon. Groups, including the local NAACP and Black Lives Matter, demanded the investigation be completed within 30 days.
CLEAT called Freeman’s suspension a “rush-to-judgment firing” that was unjust and politically motivated. At a news briefing Monday, Acevedo said the decision was not subject to the political whims of either activists or labor leaders.
“My job is not to take a poll,” Acevedo said. “My job is to make a call. That call has been made. It was made unanimously, and I stand by it.”
On Monday, Nelson Linder, president of the NAACP, said Freeman “clearly misengaged the whole situation. It is a very tragic incident, but if we are going to stop these tragic shootings, we have to have police officers enforce their own policies.”
Freeman, who is black, has said he opened fire on Joseph, who also was African-American, when the teen charged him after he responded to calls in a North Austin neighborhood about a man harassing residents.
Officials have offered no explanation for why Joseph might have been nude, but his behavior led some to question whether he might have been under the influence of a drug such as PCP that could have given him what police frequently call “superhuman strength.” However, an autopsy released late last week showed he had Xanax and marijuana in his system.
Police union officials quickly denounced Acevedo for holding a joint news conference with community members after the shooting, saying it demonstrated he already had decided the outcome of the case before reviewing the full investigation.
The last person fired for a fatal shooting was then-Sgt. Michael Olsen in December 2007, about six months after Acevedo was hired as chief. Olsen had shot Kevin Brown outside an East Austin nightclub.
Acevedo has fired two other officers for shootings that suspects survived.
Then-officer Justin Boehm was booted from the force in 2013 for shooting at a driver during a traffic stop after he reached for his wallet. The driver wasn’t struck.
A year earlier, Acevedo fired officer Christopher Allen, who had shot a home invasion suspect as he started to drive away.
Allen chased the car down the street on foot while firing 10 more shots, which forced other officers to take cover, Acevedo said. He said the car at which Allen shot did not pose a direct threat to Allen.