Key to attempted murder trial: Did shooter know his targets were APD?

12:50 p.m. update: Prosecutor Chari Kelly began opening statements to a Travis County jury this morning in the trial of Tyler Harrell, who shot and wounded a police officer during a drug raid in 2016.

The defense says Harrell did not initially know police officers were entering the home and acted in self-defense. Prosecuting attorneys must prove law enforcement clearly announced their presence and that Harrell knowingly fired upon officers anyway.

“You cannot look a police officer in the eye and fire first with an AK-47,” Kelly told the jury. “But you will learn that is exactly what the defendant Tyler Harrell did on April 14, 2016.”

Kelly then explained to the jury that the warrant had a “no-knock” provision that allowed officers to enter the home immediately.

“To get a no-knock warrant, there has to be a security concern. And in this case, there was one,” Kelly said. “Because APD had information that in addition to dealing drugs, that the defendant had an AK-47 in his possession, in that home.”

Defense attorney Skip Davis yelled and stomped in court to simulate what it may have sounded like to Harrell when officers stormed the home.

“You’re going to hear some curious testimony trying to justify what the police officers did to enter the home that night, that ‘Oh this is a real dangerous situation because that home has a rifle,’” Davis said. “That means every home in Texas, virtually, is a place which could be subject to a violent attack by armed people, whether they’re correct or incorrect.”

Owning a rifle is “not illegal, it’s not even strange. It’s a fact of life in Texas,” Davis said. “But you’re going to hear them act as if Mr. Harrell, who you’re going to learn, was acting in self-defense, must have been a villain because he had an AK-47!”

Officer Leighton Radtke, who coordinated the raid and returned fire on Harrell, was the prosecution’s first witness.

“At some point, I was informed by the detective that a social media post with him and another subject holding a high power assault-style weapon,” Radtke said of his decision to enter the home with a SWAT unit.

The burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Harrell was aware of the police officers when they entered the home.

Earlier: Opening statements are scheduled today in the trial of an Austin man who shot and wounded a police officer during a drug raid in 2016.

Tyler Harrell, who was 18 years old at the time of the shooting, told detectives that he thought someone was breaking into his home in the early morning hours of April 14. Harrell fired 10 to 20 shots with an AK-47 assault-style rifle, police say. He faces a charge of attempted capital murder.

The officers used a “no-knock” search warrant in the raid, a common tactic when they think officers are in danger or if an investigation will benefit from a surprise search. Prior warning could cause suspects to dispose of evidence or present a danger if they have an opportunity to arm themselves.

The shooting has raised questions about the use of the risky military-style tactics by Austin police, occasionally for lower-level offenses. Officers found 1.2 ounces of marijuana in Harrell’s home, court records show.

Police officials have said Harrell’s decision to shoot at them proved the legitimacy of their fears of an attack.

This is a developing story; check back for updates.

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