The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has upheld the dismissal of a manslaughter charge against former Austin police detective Charles “Trey” Kleinert in the shooting death of Larry Jackson in 2013.
A U.S. district judge in Austin had previously dismissed the charge, saying that because Kleinert was working on a federal task force the day of the shooting, he was entitled to a special federal protective immunity.
The use of that immunity for a municipal police officer serving on a federal task force officer was highly unusual and potentially precedent setting.
Travis County prosecutors appealed that decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held a hearing last fall.
Prosecutors must now consider whether to ask for the case to be heard again, or try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
“We are delighted,” said Randy Leavitt, who represents Kleinert, after receiving the ruling Thursday. “I talked to Trey and his family, and they too are relieved. I hope we are getting close to the end of this.”
On the afternoon that Kleinert shot Jackson, Kleinert, who was serving on the Central Texas Violent Crimes Task Force, was at a Central Austin bank investigating an earlier robbery. Jackson showed up and tried to enter the bank, which was closed, identifying himself as a customer.
When Kleinert tried to question him more closely, Jackson ran away. After commandeering a civilian’s car, Kleinert eventually caught up to Jackson and the two became involved in a struggle in which Kleinert said his gun accidentally fired, fatally hitting Jackson in the neck.
Kleinert’s case marked what experts believe is the first time nationally a local police officer has attempted to seek immunity by arguing that his participation in a federal task force protected him. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, in his October ruling, appeared to expand the protection that was meant for officers from such agencies as the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
The law was intended to create a uniform protection for federal agents whose work might take them back and forth across state lines, against the whims of local prosecutors, should agents ever be accused of excessive force. Legal experts say federal officers can still be criminally charged for using excessive force, but that the standard is much more permissive than state laws generally are.