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APD: 17-Year-Old Fatally Shot Monday Was Unarmed, But 'Charging' at Officer

Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The identities of the police officer and the subject involved in Monday’s deadly officer-involved shooting were released Tuesday afternoon. The officer was more-than-ten-year department veteran Geoffrey Freeman. The subject who was fatally shot in the incident was identified as 17-year-old David Joseph.

Joseph was unarmed at the time of the incident, said Austin Police Chief of Staff Officer Brian Manley. When asked why it took more than a day to determine and report whether the subject had been armed, Manley responded:

“We had not yet completed our search of the crime scene, we had not interviewed Officer Freeman, so we did not want to put out any information that we were not absolutely certain of when we briefed you yesterday. We can tell you today that Mr. Joseph was not armed when he had his interaction with Officer Freeman.”

Officer Freeman initially responded to reports of an incident in an apartment building at the 300 block of Yager Lane involving a young black male, reportedly naked, acting erratically and aggressively. The officer didn’t find the subject in the apartment, subsequently waited in the area, then saw Joseph in the street. Joseph supposedly charged at the officer, who then discharged his weapon.

Part of the incident was captured by a police vehicle dashboard camera, though part of the incident occurred “out of frame,” according to APD. 

Freeman has been placed on administrative duty, which is standard practice for officers involved in critical incidents, Manley said. Two investigations will be conducted: One will be an investigation within the department, involving the Austin Police Monitor, that will determine whether the officer followed the department's use-of-deadly-force protocol, and the other will be a criminal investigation conducted by the APD Special Investigations Unit in tandem with the county district attorney that will determine whether the officer violated state law. The department will interview Freeman formally sometime this week.

Credit Austin Police Department
From the 2015 Austin Police Department Manual.

Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project says he hopes the investigations will be fair and open.

"I want, I hope that these investigations are open and transparent, so that we're not left to guess who's saying what to whom, as we've seen in other parts of the country, where we end up covering over these incidents that happen," he says.

Harrington was part of a group who requested a Department of Justice inquiry into Austin Police, which ended in 2011. The DOJ gave the department 160 recommendations, including changes to the department's use-of-force policy. Harrington says he doubts the officer in this incident followed the department's policy.

"I think it's outrageous that this happened. You've got a young kid who is for whatever reason running around naked and unarmed, and how an officer could feel that he was threatened in that situation is beyond me," Harrington says.

He says he'll bring this incident to the attention of the Department of Justice, possibly as soon as this week.

APD said it did not identify the young man until more than 24 hours after the shooting because they were tracking down his family members. They found some family in Austin, though it’s still unknown whether the young man himself lived here in the city, the department said. The Travis County Medical Examiner’s office identified the deceased. 

Questions that APD did not answer at the press event include: how many shots were fired, whether the officer was equipped with a taser, and whether the deceased had a criminal record. A toxicology report will be available in 30 to 45 days. You can watch the APD press briefing from Tuesday in the video below.