A man whom family members described as mentally ill, and who police say was wielding a pickax, was shot and killed by officers early Wednesday outside an East Austin home in the city’s second officer-involved shooting in a little more than two weeks.
Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said body camera footage showed the man lunging at officers with the pickax before five officers opened fire.
Police did not identify the man, but his relatives, who gathered outside the home in the 4800 block of Tanney Street, said he was Victor Ancira, a 46-year-old with a history of mental illness.
“He was a loving, caring person. He didn’t bother no one,” said Samantha Chavez, Ancira’s 21-year-old niece. “He stayed inside, he was sick. He had a disability. … We are all hurt right now.”
Manley said the incident was triggered by a 4:18 a.m. call to 911 by a man claiming he had killed his father and brother and that police could “find the bodies and the murder weapon inside the residence.”
When officers arrived, they found the caller in the street carrying a pickax, Manley said. Police initially kept their distance and used a megaphone to try to persuade him to disarm and surrender, he said.
“(In the police video) we can hear commands being given to please drop the weapon, please drop the pickax,” Manley said.
Manley said that after 10 minutes of negotiations, police used impact munitions as a less-lethal means of stopping the man as he moved back toward the home. However, he used an outdoor chair to block the rounds. Manley said police video footage showed officers had also used a stun gun to stop him.
Twenty-five minutes after officers first arrived, Manley said the man raised the pickax and moved quickly toward the police officers, who then fired several shots, causing him to fall in the driveway.
The man was pronounced dead at the scene, and no officers were injured.
When police entered the residence on Tanney Street, they did not find anyone injured in the home, but they did find what appeared to be a suicide note posted to the door, Manley said.
“My heart goes out, the department’s heart, the city’s heart goes out to this family,” Manley said. “But when we respond to an incident like this, and not knowing what had happened in that house … there was a need to get in and make sure that there had not been anyone harmed.”
Nearly a dozen family members waited behind police tape throughout the morning seeking answers.
Several times tensions rose between them and police, as they pleaded for more information and asked why officers had to shoot Ancira, many wailing and in tears.
“Why pull out a gun?” nephew Ryan Chavez said. “Maybe you could have saved his life.”
While the Austin Police Department conducts concurrent internal and criminal investigations into the shooting, the five officers who fired their guns have been placed on administrative duty, which is standard department procedure in police shootings, Manley said. Of the five, one has been with the Austin police for six years, three for one year and another for less than a year, he said. Three officers who used less lethal force also are on administrative duty, Manley said.
All Austin police officers are trained in mental health awareness and de-escalation, and some officers have additional training to assist and provide resources to people in crisis, said police Lt. Brian Jones, who oversees the department’s crisis intervention officers.
Mental health officers are scattered on patrol throughout the city, but when an emergency takes place, the nearest available officer or officers are sent out.
“Any situation like this, where a person may possibly be armed with a gun, a knife, a baseball bat, you name it, these situations are incredibly quickly evolving and very dynamic, so things happen in the blink of an eye,” Jones said.
Wednesday’s incident was the city’s third police shooting this year.
• On Jan. 26, Austin police exchanged gunfire with 23-year-old Christopher Giles after he broke into a Central Austin home and shot at two officers who confronted him, officials said. Court documents said that preliminary findings from the Travis County medical examiner’s office indicated a possibly self-inflicted, fatal gunshot wound.
• On Feb. 19, 23-year-old Thomas Vincent Alvarez was fatally shot by police after he led officers on a chase that ended at an apartment complex in the 4900 block of Edge Creek Drive. Seven officers fired rounds during that shooting and were placed on administrative leave, police said at the time.
A database maintained by the Texas attorney general’s office that tracks in-custody deaths shows that four people died as a result of police shootings in Austin last year.
Police have recorded 58 officer-involved shootings from 2007 through 2016, according to city data. In eight of those cases, officers used less-lethal force before opening fire, whether with an impact weapon, stun gun or without a weapon.
In 34 of those incidents, the person who was shot or shot at was armed with a gun or rifle. Six were armed with a knife or machete, three were armed with an air pistol or pellet gun, and nine attempted to use a vehicle as a weapon, city data shows. Four were listed as unarmed, one had a microphone cord, and another had both a gun and vehicle listed as a weapon.
In 11 cases, police did not hit anybody.