A man in police custody shot himself in the head while in the back of a patrol car Sunday, according to officials with the Austin Police Department, and he was in critical condition Sunday night.
The shooting occurred outside a crowded bar at Fifth and Lavaca streets downtown just after lunch, as officers were taking the man to police headquarters. He had been arrested about an hour before at Barton Creek Square mall and was accused of shoplifting and possession of a controlled substance, officials said.
While in the patrol car, police said, the man pulled out a gun concealed in his waistband and shot himself.
At a media briefing, interim Police Chief Brian Manley would not say whether the man had been frisked before being placed in the car, though it is standard protocol.
“That is part of the ongoing investigation,” Manley said.
Police had not been able to determine the man’s identity upon his arrest but believed he was wanted for multiple felonies, Manley said. They placed him in the patrol car at the mall to take him to headquarters downtown to fingerprint him, Manley said.
During the trip, the man told the officer driving that he had “suicidal ideations,” according to a conversation recorded in the patrol car’s interior camera, Manley said. When the officer asked whether the man had the means to injure himself, the man pulled out the gun and, though handcuffed, managed to point it at his head, Manley said.
The officer reported the incident over the radio and exited the vehicle in the 500 block of Lavaca Street, Manley said. He began giving commands to the man to put the gun down as other officers arrived and cleared people from the street, Manley said.
Six minutes passed, and during that time the man put the gun to his head several times before shooting himself once, authorities said. Officers took the man out of the vehicle and performed life-saving measures until medics arrived, Manley said. The man was taken to University Medical Center Brackenridge, where he was treated for life-threatening injuries, police said.
The man still had not been identified Sunday evening, but police said he was probably in his late teens or early 20s.
No other shots were fired and no one else was injured, but Manley said officers and the public had been in danger.
“If this individual had chosen to remove that weapon and fire at the officer instead without saying something, we could be here discussing a very different incident,” he said.
The area around Sixth and Lavaca streets was shut down for several hours Sunday as police processed the crime scene.
Video from a witness who drove in front of the scene showed several patrol cars parked on Lavaca in front of the Belmont music club. An officer was walking with a rifle while others appeared to be performing CPR on the man lying in the road.
According to Manley, the entire incident was also captured on the squad car’s dash camera video.
Manley did not identify the officers involved but said the one driving the patrol car had been with the force 11 years and another officer who was following him in a second patrol car was a seven-year veteran.
The shooting will be investigated by internal affairs, police said.