Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said Tuesday investigators have not yet concluded whether a breach in protocol led to the death of 19-year-old Zachary Khabir Anam, who pulled out a gun and shot himself Sunday while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car in downtown Austin.
Investigators are awaiting a statement from officer Iven Wall, who was driving Anam to police headquarters to be fingerprinted. Wall has been with the Austin Police Department for 10 years, Manley said. Wall and officer John Ricker, who was driving in a separate car behind Wall to escort Anam to the police station at the time, have both been placed on administrative leave while police investigate the shooting.
Anam was accused of shoplifting at Barton Creek Square mall and detained Sunday. Multiple police sources familiar with the investigation have told the American-Statesman that Anam wasn’t properly searched before he was taken into custody, though Manley declined to confirm that Tuesday.
Manley said that Anam was able to reach his gun — which had been reported stolen in an Austin vehicle burglary last year — by pulling his arms around the right side of his body, laying down in the back seat and placing his head in front of the muzzle. The incident was captured on video by the vehicle’s interior camera system.
Anam’s parents sent a message Tuesday to the Statesman about their son, expressing love, thanks and sorrow.
“Zac was a beautiful kid, who loved his family and friends very much, and was loved by them very much,” they said.
According to the family, Anam was born in Connecticut but raised in Austin. He was a member of the varsity football and wrestling teams at Bowie High School, where he graduated in 2015.
“We are devastated by the loss of our wonderful son, and very grateful for the overwhelming outpouring from the many friends of Zac who have expressed their love of him and of us,” the family said.
Manley began his press conference Tuesday by expressing his condolences to Anam’s family. Victims Services, an Austin police agency, has offered support and is in touch with the family, and Manley will be meeting with the family when they’re ready, he said.
“At the end of the day, we have a family that lost their son — a young son — while he was in our custody when he took his own life,” Manley said.
On Sunday, Macy’s loss prevention personnel at Barton Creek Square initially detained Anam, suspecting him of shoplifting, police have said. He was arrested on charges of shoplifting and drug possession.
During the drive to the police station, Anam told Wall he was suicidal, Manley said. Wall told him that there would be counselors at the jail that he could talk to about that. Anam responded that he didn’t think he could wait that long and was able to grab his gun.
Wall then pulled over near the corner of Fifth and Lavaca streets. Wall reported what was happening over the radio and began giving Anam commands to put the gun down.
Police backup arrived and cleared the area. A few minutes later, Anam shot himself once. He was taken to University Medical Center Brackenridge in critical condition, where he died.
Three sources with knowledge of the investigation said the arresting officer didn’t conduct a thorough pat-down of Anam because Anam had already been handcuffed by mall security. Manley said the officer still would have had a duty to pat down the man even though he had received him from security guards.
“We have very thorough policies in this area,” Manley said Tuesday.