Hours after the Austin Police Association called on the city to investigate who leaked information about last month’s officer-involved shooting, City Manager Marc Ott announced Wednesday that an administrative inquiry is already in the works.
But the investigation, which Ott said will be conducted by the city’s law department and overseen by Deputy City Manager Mike McDonald, falls short of what the union wants: an independent investigation into who told the American-Statesman details from an internal affairs interview with the detective who fatally shot an unarmed man last month.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, Sgt. Wayne Vincent, the union’s president, requested the city appoint an outside individual or entity to investigate what he called a “criminal act” that violates the law and the association’s labor contract with the city. He speculated that the information was released to try to manipulate the investigation, and he later said the city’s response was simply “smoke and mirrors.”
“We are saddened that the city manager accepts corruption within our police department with little response,” he said.
The union’s offensive comes as police officials continue to examine what happened during the confrontation between Detective Charles Kleinert and Larry Eugene Jackson Jr. on July 26, including whether Kleinert unintentionally killed the 32-year-old man. After initially reporting the shooting as an apparent justifiable homicide to the state, the department on Wednesday revised the description to say “pending investigation,” in part becausetoo little information is yet available to draw any other conclusion, an official said.
Several sources told the American-Statesman last week that, during an interview with internal affairs investigators, Kleinert said he had drawn his weapon to try to subdue Jackson and that during a struggle Kleinert lost his balance and fell. A single round accidentally went off, and Jackson was shot in the back of the neck, according to the sources, who had been informed of what Kleinert said to investigators but asked to remain anonymous because they aren’t authorized to speak.
Kleinert was required as a condition of his employment with the Police Department to provide a statement to internal affairs investigators, but the content of such interviews is confidential under state law. State and federal laws prohibit any possible incriminating comments in the statement from being used against him in a criminal investigation.
Ott said the city is taking seriously allegations that confidential information was released.
“It is imperative that we are able to perform our administrative responsibilities without the risk of confidential information being exposed,” he said.
During the news conference, Vincent said the leaked information jeopardizes all investigations into the shooting, including one looking at whether Kleinert committed a crime.
Vincent said he wasn’t going to jump to conclusions about who he thought released information about what Kleinert told investigators, but he said a number of police officers think it was Police Monitor Margo Frasier.
Frasier said Wednesday that she didn’t leak the information and that she doesn’t think anyone from her office did.
“I welcome the investigation,” said Frasier, who was among the seven people present during Kleinert’s internal affairs interview. “I would like to know the answer, too.”
Though Assistant Police Chief Brian Manley acknowledged during a news conference last week that authorities were trying to figure out if the shooting was an accident, few new official details have been released about the shooting since.
Manley has said Kleinert was investigating a morning robbery at the Benchmark Bank on West 35th Street near Shoal Creek when Jackson tried to open the bank’s locked doors that afternoon. Jackson, who had a previous forgery charge in Williamson County from 2003 but wasn’t a suspect in the bank robbery, walked away and then returned a minute later and tried to open the door again, police have said.
A bank manager went outside to speak to Jackson, and, when she returned, she told Kleinert that he had attempted to use the name of a bank customer who employees knew wasn’t Jackson.
Police have said that Jackson fled after talking to Kleinert for a few minutes and that the detective got a ride from a passer-by in his effort to find Jackson. The two men then got into a struggle under a nearby bridge, where Jackson was shot.
Police Cmdr. Mark Spangler confirmed Wednesday that he changed “apparent justifiable homicide” to “pending investigation” as the manner of death listed on the standard form law enforcement agencies must file with the Texas attorney general’s office within 30 days of an officer-involved shooting. Spangler also changed the report to show that Jackson’s behavior leading up to his death is also under investigation. Before, the report specified that he resisted being handcuffed or arrested, tried to escape or flee from custody and grabbed, hit or fought with Kleinert.
The initial report further said that Jackson would have been charged with identity theft, evading and resisting arrest at the time of his death and that he would have been charged with a violent crime against persons and a serious crime against property. In the revised report, both the offense of resisting arrest and the charge of violent crime against persons are gone.
Spangler said the information was initially submitted in error four days after the shooting but that processes have been strengthened to make sure that doesn’t happen again.