An 18-year-old was accused of shooting an Austin police SWAT officer in the knee Thursday while officers executed a search warrant on the teenager’s North Austin home, which police said was involved in illegal drug trade.
Police said another officer fired back but didn’t hit the shooter, who authorities identified as Tyler Michael Harrell.
The injured officer, seven-year veteran James Pittman, was in stable condition at University Medical Center Brackenridge after surgery, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said. No one else was hurt.
Acevedo said that Pittman is expected to have more surgeries. “He’s a wonderful officer,” Acevedo said, “and I want him to be able to recover so he can continue his wonderful career.”
The officer who fired at Harrell is Leighton Radtke, who has been with the department for eight years. Radtke has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard protocol in police shootings. Investigators also will conduct internal and criminal investigations into the incident.
A threat assessment led police to believe automatic weapons were present in Harrell’s home in the 1000 block of Morrow Street, so police officials decided to send the SWAT team to execute the search warrant at 5:54 a.m. Officers breached the door and used a loudspeaker mounted to a vehicle to announce their presence and that they had a search warrant, police said.
Officers checked to see if anyone was in the entryway before setting off at least one distraction device known as a “flash bang” that could be heard from blocks away, police and neighbors said.
As police moved in, Harrell rounded a corner from the second floor and fired multiple shots from a rifle at officers, Acevedo said.
Pittman was struck once and another officer returned “cover fire,” Acevedo said. The team pulled Pittman out of the home, and a SWAT paramedic took him to the hospital. Officers retreated from the home at 5:59 a.m., Acevedo said.
At 6:11 a.m., Harrell and a woman who police believed to be his mother came out of the home. He was arrested without further incident. Harrell’s father and brother were also inside the home.
Harrell has been charged with attempted capital murder. He was in Travis County Jail on Thursday afternoon with no bail set, jail records showed.
Acevedo said police found evidence of illegal drugs inside Harrell’s home and expected to file additional charges against the teen.
The shooting is the second time in less than two weeks that an on-duty Austin officer has been shot. Officer Armando Perez was shot in the abdomen on April 3 while trying to arrest a man in downtown Austin. In an exchange of gunfire, Perez fatally wounded Darrin Andrew Martin, 25.
Last week, an off-duty Austin police officer was critically injured in a wreck on Interstate 35.
The cumulative effect of the incidents — and the lead role Austin police took in the investigation into 18-year-old dance student Haruka Weiser’s death on the University of Texas campus — has taxed the department.
“It’s been a long couple of weeks,” Acevedo said. But he said officers have been resilient in the face of the challenges and tragedies. The chief urged the public to thank an officer if they happen to see one.
At the scene of the shooting, police did get a “thank you” from Morrow Street resident Sara Brinton and her four children. The family lives two houses down from where the shooting occurred and were awoken by the flash bangs and the SWAT loudspeaker.
After hunkering down for a few hours in one of the children’s bedrooms, Brinton realized the scene was safe and police allowed them to leave to get a snack.
“I think we’ve all been scared and a little frustrated that we didn’t know what was going on earlier, but we recognize that the police were just doing their jobs and that they were going to do whatever they needed to do to keep us safe,” Brinton said.
Brinton and her children, Asher, 11, Micah, 9, Zeph, 7, and Ella, 5, went to a nearby doughnut shop. There, the kids thought it would be a good idea to buy doughnuts for the police. Their mother agreed.
“They did a very good job,” Asher said.