Speaking for the first time publicly since an Austin police officer shot and killed an unarmed, naked Pflugerville-area high school student, Police Chief Art Acevedo said the officer responsible has “tough questions” to answer.
Chief among those will be if officer Geoffrey Freeman should have used a nonlethal option — a stun gun, a baton or even his fists — when 17-year-old David Joseph charged at him on Monday in Northeast Austin.
Flanked by community organizers from several organizations highly critical of the fatal shooting, Acevedo said police will conduct a thorough and fair investigation that will determine whether Freeman should be disciplined or charged for Joseph’s killing.
“We have a young man who has been killed, and my only concern right now is, were we justified?” Acevedo said. “My focus is what happened in the space of a matter of seconds between David Joseph and officer Freeman.”
In the days since Freeman encountered Joseph in a Northeast Austin neighborhood, pressure for answers has continued to mount. On Thursday, it took the form of protesters from Black Lives Matter Austin and the Austin Justice Coalition demanding that the city push for an independent investigation into the shooting.
Mayor Steve Adler called for a speedy internal investigation, asking Austin police to conclude their probe faster than the 45 days they typically have to complete their investigations into fatal police shootings.
“Your voice ensures us that we remember David Joseph, and they remind us that black lives matter,” Adler said to the protesters in front of City Hall. “The city hears you, and the country hears you.”
Acevedo urged patience and promised that his investigators would complete the investigation within 30 days. But he said he wouldn’t, at this time, initiate an independent investigation.
City Manager Marc Ott could also seek an investigation from an outside agency.
Acevedo provided a more detailed timeline of the events that preceded the shooting. He spoke for the first time about the 911 calls leading up to the incident and noted that Freeman had called for backup minutes before his encounter with Joseph.
The police account of events is that Joseph was naked when Freeman encountered him in the 12000 block of Natures Bend. When Freeman exited his patrol car, Joseph charged at him and disobeyed commands to stop before Freeman opened fire. A recording of police scanner traffic obtained by the American-Statesman suggests Joseph was shot twice in the front of his chest.
At City Hall on Thursday morning, the protesters shouted Joseph’s name while some held high signs calling for Acevedo to be fired. Inside City Council Chambers, Gene Vela, who himself survived being shot by Austin police in 2013, sat in the front row of the spectator seats holding a sign that said “Adios Acevedo mofo” in plain view.
Later, Acevedo met with leaders of the protests, including Meme Styles and Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition.
Despite their criticism of police, they praised Acevedo for sitting down with them before an extended press conference Thursday in which Acevedo allowed each of them time to speak freely about Joseph’s shooting and the state of police relations with the community. Likewise, Acevedo praised the organizers for their efforts to help make Austin police better.
“What happens in Austin has the potential to reverberate throughout America,” said Styles, who is also a lead organizer of the police data group Measure Austin.
The groups have demanded a full audit of the Austin Police Department’s use-of-force policies and encounters with the mentally ill.
Acevedo defended the department’s policies, saying they are held up as a national standard. He said that if police had known earlier on Monday that they were responding to a call that involved a naked individual, the police response would have automatically been greater. Acevedo said reports of a naked individual would lead police to believe the person is either suffering from a psychological emergency or is in a drug-induced state.
With Acevedo standing behind him, Moore said the onus was on Freeman.
“I’m not here to tell you David Joseph had a mental problem, but we knew something was wrong, and that’s where officer Freeman is guilty,” Moore said. “He didn’t take the extra time out to assess that situation properly. That’s why there is a family in North Austin in sorrow because their son is no longer here.”
Calling Austin a city that lives in its own illusion of itself, Moore said it was up to everyone, not just the police and community organizers, to recognize and work on the problems that minority and poor residents face.
“Austin is not the liberal haven that it is painted to be,” Moore said. “We need to stop saying that like it’s makeup we use to paint this city as the Wizard of Oz – the Emerald City.”
Timeline in shooting
- 6:30 a.m. — A person in the 12000 block of Natures Bend sees a black male in a T-shirt and jeans and thinks it suspicious because of the cold temperatures, but doesn’t call 911.
- 9:21 a.m. — A resident calls 911 after seeing a black male behind the fence line of homes on Natures Bend wearing a black sweatsuit. He is last seen headed south on Natures Bend.
- 9:24 a.m. — A woman who had an interaction with a person believed to be David Joseph on Sunday calls 911 after seeing a suspicious person walking on Natures Bend. She cannot say if it is the same person.
- 9:29 a.m. — Officer Gregory Freeman is assigned to the calls.
- 9:37 a.m. — Freeman arrives at the scene.
- 9:50 a.m. — Freeman clears the call, telling dispatch he is available for other calls.
- 9:57 a.m. — An apartment manager at a complex at 305 East Yager Lane says he sees a black male chasing a man in the complex’s parking lot. The black male is seen jumping a fence.
- 9:58 a.m. — Freeman is assigned to the call. Freeman speaks to witnesses who saw the chase.
- 10:22 a.m. — The same caller from the 9:24 a.m. call places another call to 911 saying she saw a naked male jumping out of the treeline near some mail boxes and running in front of her vehicle.
- 10:23 a.m. — A 911 call is received from a person who sees a naked man at the traffic circle at Waterfall and Natures Bend. At this point, Freeman calls for backup.
- 10:25 a.m. — Freeman arrives and sees the caller who directs Freeman down Natures Bend. Joseph is then seen on Freeman’s dashboard camera standing naked to the south of him. Freeman stops his patrol vehicle as Joseph turns around. Joseph runs at Freeman and shots are fired.
- Later — Other officers arrive and begin giving Joseph medical attention. Medics arrive moments later and begin CPR. Joseph is taken to St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center with CPR in progress. He is later pronounced dead.