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Update: Civil Rights Group Questions Austin Police's 'Suicide by Cop' Rationale in Fatal Shooting

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin Police Chief says an incident this week in which police officers fatally shot a man was not a mental health call.

Chief Art Acevedo is responding to the Texas Civil Rights Project calling for the city to appoint an independent professional consultant to help police handle incidents involving people with mental illness.

Here’s how Chief Acevedo characterizes this week’s incident, in which a man was shot after pointing a shotgun at APD officers.

“It was not a mental health call," Acevedo said. "It was a public safety threat call, where the, the absolute safety of our residents was at risk. The Austin Police Department received information that the decedent in that case was suicidal and homicidal and threatening to hurt others.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project is calling for more involvement from the Austin Police Monitor’s Office in assessing calls involving use of force.

Earlier: Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says the department will take a critical look at how officers handled an encounter with an armed man this week. He says that's typical after an officer-involved shooting.

Officers shot and killed 54-year-old Herbert Babelay on Tuesday when they say he pointed a rifle at them. Police were responding to a call of a suicidal man.

The Texas Civil Rights Project says it is “disturbing” that police killed Babelay, knowing he was suicidal. The group sent a letter to the Austin City Council and Acevedo to request that the city appoint an independent professional consultant to handle what they refer to as mental health calls.

In the letter, Texas Civil Rights Project Director James C. Harrington criticized the way police responded:

"From what we can tell, there were no de-escalation techniques employed. In view of that, the police chief's positing that the victim was after 'suicide by cop" appears to be an unacceptable, self-serving post facto  rationalization, especially in view of an individual being killed by the police."

Acevedo responded by releasing this statement:

"... this encounter is a prime illustration of the need for better mental health care in our community, state and Nation. Our Nation's woefully inadequate commitment to mental health, too often results in our front-line officers being left to deal with and suffer the consequences of this failure, not to mention the loss for the families' of the involved subject."

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
Trey Shaar is an All Things Considered producer, reporter and host. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @treyshaar.
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