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Austin City Council Approves $3.25M Settlement in Police Shooting of David Joseph

Austin Police Department
A screenshot of the dashcam video from the Austin Police Department.

Austin City Council has approved a $3.25 million settlement with the family of a black 17-year-oldwho was unarmed and naked when he was shot and killed by an Austin police officer last year.

“It is our sincere hope that the public nature of the settlement will make future police shootings less likely,” David Johnson's mother, Ketty Sully, said in a statement. “David was a wonderful son and a loving brother. He will remain in our hearts forever.”

The statement continued: 

While my family appreciates the professionalism and dignity with which David’s wrongful death claim was handled by the City, the Police Department, and all the lawyers involved, my family wishes to remind everyone that no amount of money could ever make up for what happened.

The settlement is the most the city has ever paid after a deadly police shooting. 

Police were called to Joseph's neighborhood in North Austin on Feb. 8, 2016, after reports that he was acting erratically and running naked through the street.

In a dashcam video released by APD, Joseph can be seen charging at Officer Geoffrey Freeman’s car. Freeman yells for him to stop, before firing two shots. One hits Joseph in the leg, the other in the chest.

Freeman, who is also black, was fired for breaking protocol in the incident, but a grand jury declined to indict him in the shooting. Freeman appealed his firing and eventually settled with the city for $35,000.

"It just makes me sad, that’s all,” Vanessa Bissereth, a close friend of Joseph's family, said of Thursday's settlement. 

“It’s sort of like putting it to bed,” she said. “Like, 'We’ve paid you, move on.'”

Bissereth and Sully went to Joseph’s grave site for the first time on the anniversary of his death last week. It was a reminder that “he’s not coming back,” Bissereth said. “That he’s entombed."  

City Council Member Ora Houston issued a statement Thursday saying the city recognized the situation was “regrettable.”

It is never easy when we have a violent event like David Joseph’s death occur in our community. This city has been forever changed by the unfortunate death of this young man. My prayers go out to Ms. Sully and the extended family. The settlement will not close the void left in the hearts of the family yet I hope that it will begin to bring a sense of closure to the family and the community.

Attorneys for the family said they hoped the "tragic situation leads to additional training for the City's officers and that the settlement has a positive impact on the City's race relations going forward." 

Matt Largey is the Projects Editor at KUT. That means doing a little bit of everything: editing reporters, producing podcasts, reporting, training, producing live events and always being on the lookout for things that make his ears perk up. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.
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