Travis County’s determined effort to prosecute a former Austin police detective who fatally shot an unarmed black man during a bank robbery investigation has ended at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nation’s highest court announced Monday that it will not take up the case, upholding the rulings of lower courts that cleared Charles Kleinert of criminal wrongdoing in the July 2013 death of Larry Jackson Jr. Kleinert has said his gun accidentally fired when he was trying to arrest Jackson.
With no additional legal options, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said her office’s involvement in the case has “come to an end” after years of appeals and big payments to outside lawyers.
Moore in July received county approval to pay $30,000 to the law firm of former Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson to oversee the Supreme Court appeal. County commissioners in December agreed to pay the firm an additional $20,000 for drafting a response to a brief filed by Kleinert’s lawyers.
“Although this is a disappointing result, I am proud of the effort of this office to pursue these appeals,” Moore said in a statement Monday. “I want to thank former Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson and his law firm for their excellent work on our petition. Their contribution to our legal arguments was significant. I also thank the Travis County Commissioners Court for their support. I, and this office, remain committed to the pursuit of justice in cases that involve lethal use of force by police officers.”
Kleinert declined to comment. His attorney, Randy Leavitt, said, “It is the result we expected all along, and we are glad to have it finally resolved.”
The original petition to the Supreme Court attacked a key 2015 federal court decision that Kleinert is protected from prosecution because he was serving as a special federal agent on a task force at the time of the shooting, and because his conduct was deemed reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.
Police say Kleinert was investigating a robbery at Benchmark Bank in Central Austin when Jackson tried to open the bank’s locked door. According to police, Kleinert tried to question Jackson, who fled, prompting Kleinert to get a ride from a passing driver to pursue Jackson. Police believe Jackson was not involved with the robbery that Kleinert was investigating, but that he had come to the bank to withdraw money from an account belonging to a person whose identity he had stolen.
The two of them then got into a struggle under a nearby bridge, where Kleinert shot Jackson in the back of the neck.
Kleinert in May 2014 was indicted on a manslaughter charge, raising the rare possibility that an Austin police officer would be found criminally responsible for a fatal shooting. But his lawyers got a fresh start by shifting the case to federal court. There, they argued successfully with an 1890 legal precedent that Kleinert should be immune from prosecution because of his involvement with the federal task force. The original statute was written to protect circuit-riding federal agents in the Old West.
When he shot Jackson, Kleinert had been deputized for about a year as a federal agent as part of his membership with the Central Texas Violent Crimes Task Force. He retired months after the shooting.
After the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision last May, Moore announced that her office would make a final appeal to the Supreme Court, continuing a pursuit started years earlier by then-District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. The appeal, composed by Moore’s lawyers and reviewed by Jefferson’s firm, criticized the federal supremacy clause used in Kleinert’s defense.
The Supreme Court did not elaborate on its decision noy to hear the case. The ruling was not unexpected, as the court typically hears only about 130 of the 7,000 cases it receives each year. Four of the court’s nine justices must agree to hear a case.
The Charles Kleinert case
July 26, 2013: Austin police detective Charles Kleinert shoots and kills Larry Jackson Jr., an unarmed black man, after a chase that began when Jackson tried to enter a Central Austin bank that had been robbed earlier in the day. Kleinert has said the gun accidentally fired.
May 12, 2014: A Travis County grand jury approves manslaughter charges against Kleinert, a rare instance in which a local law enforcement officer is indicted for using deadly force.
Oct. 29, 2015: U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel dismisses the indictment, granting Kleinert legal immunity on the grounds that he was working on a federal task force at the time of the shooting and his behavior was reasonable under the circumstances. Yeakel relied on a legal precedent from 1890 in his ruling.
April 20, 2017: Yeakel’s decision is upheld by a three-judge panel at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
May 4: The Travis County district attorney’s office asks that all judges on the 5th Circuit reconsider the decision of the three-judge panel. They decline.
Aug. 23: In a last-ditch effort to prosecute Kleinert for Jackson’s death, the district attorney’s office appeals the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Monday: The U.S. Supreme Court declines to take up the appeal.