Federal judge dismisses manslaughter indictment against retired Texas officer

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Citing federal immunity, judge tosses manslaughter charge for Texas detective who shot unarmed black man in 2013.

On Thursday night, just four days before the former Austin police officer was set to stand trial, a federal judge in Texas dismissed a manslaughter charge against Charles Kleinert in the 2013 shooting death of Larry Jackson Jr., an unarmed black man.Kleinert, who’s white, shot Jackson, an African-American, following a foot pursuit and a scuffle after Jackson approached the scene of a bank robbery in Central Austin on July 26, 2013. Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled Kleinert was acting as part of a joint FBI task force on bank robberies, and is entitled to immunity, since he was acting as a federal officer when he pursued and shot Jackson. “I am totally dismayed by today’s federal court action dismissing the Charles Kleinert prosecution,” Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said in a statement. “With this federal court action dismissing the case, it appears that an Austin Police Department officer can be assigned to a federal task force and avoid prosecution in state court.” The attorney for the former police officer says he hopes Lehmberg decides not to appeal, but vows to “vigorously defend the federal court’s correct decision” if she does. “The court’s decision to dismiss this case is 100 percent correct,” Kleinert’s attorney Randy Leavitt said in an email. “State prosecutors cannot bring criminal charges to second-guess, Monday morning quarterback, or micromanage the conduct of a federal officer in carrying out his or her duties.” “This shows the lengths in which the system will protect a police officer at any cost,” attorney Adam Loewy says. “This man murdered Larry by shooting him in the back of the head, where the gun was on Larry’s neck.” “He was indicted by a Travis County jury, and he just got off on a legal technicality,” he says. “That is the way the system is set up in this country and it must change.”

Kleinert was one of 54 officers to be charged in connection with a fatal on-duty shooting from 2005 to 2014, according to a Washington Post analysis published earlier this year. Yeakel said that means the 126-year-old court ruling that protects federal officers from state prosecutions for official actions applies to Kleinert in this case. That 19th-century ruling found that the fatal shooting of a suspect in California by a specially deputized U.S. marshal was immune from a murder prosecution because of the “supremacy clause” of the U.S.

Austin Police have said that Jackson returned to the bank a second time, when he was confronted by Kleinert, a detective who was investigating the robbery. After a few minutes, Jackson ran. “(Kleinert) was breathless and agitated and yelled, ‘Go go go’ and ‘follow him’ multiple times,” the woman, Regina Bethune, told KVUE, a local television station, in February. “He seemed very out of control and highly agitated. That clause holds that the Constitution and federal laws trump any state law and ensure that states do not “retard, impede, burden, or in any manner control” the execution of federal law. Meanwhile, Adam Loewy, an attorney for Jackson’s family, said he will ask the Justice Department to assign a prosecutor to begin a federal civil rights investigation and prosecution.

At the request of Leinert’s attorneys, Yeakel took the case from state court in May as a series of graphic videotaped encounters between citizens and police focused national attention on police use of lethal force. The judge agreed with Kleinert despite the fact he flagged down a car and yelled at the driver: “Austin police – stop!” and showed her his Austin police ID badge before ordering her to help him chase Jackson.

When the driver asked if Jackson was dangerous, Kleinert replied: “No.” After getting out of the car and chasing on foot Kleinert caught up to Jackson and struck him twice before firing his gun, which he claimed was accidental. Texas prosecutors said Jackson was “unarmed, fleeing and posed no threat of serious physical harm to anyone”, and that Kleinert’s actions violated Austin police policies.

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