AUSTIN (KXAN) — Former Austin Police Detective Charles Kleinert pleaded not guilty to a manslaughter charge stemming from the shooting death of Larry Jackson, Jr. after a chase and a struggle in July 2013. A Travis County grand jury indicted Kleinert in mid-May, and Friday’s court appearance was his first.
Kleinert’s friends and family were in the the courtroom. The family of Jackson and their attorney in a lawsuit against the city and police were also present.
The second-degree charge carries a punishment of two- to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
With his family by his side, Kleinert showed little emotion while in the courtroom. Jackson’s parents sat quietly as they heard the retired police officer plead not guilty to the murder of their son.
“There’s no such thing as closure,” said Billie Mercer, Jackson’s mother. “I’ve been waiting on an indictment for a while. Now I’m ready to go fight in court. I can’t get my son back but I can try and send him to jail.”
The president of Austin’s police association was also in the courtroom Friday for the hearing.
“We’re not going try to play one side against the other during the trial,” said Wayne Vincent. “This is the process and we accept the rule of the law and we’re going to see how it plays out.”
Kleinert’s hearing comes at a time of nationwide protests and violence after grand juries choose not to indict two police officers in Missouri and New York. But a grand jury handing down an indictment in this case, Attorney Adam Loewy is now looking for a conviction.
“We believe this will be a historic trial because it will answer the question as to whether an Austin Police Officer should be allowed to track a man down in broad daylight, beat him and shoot him in the back of the head,” Loewy said.
Both sides will make their case when the trial gets underway April 20. The Judge has set aside two weeks for the trial.
Kleinert indictment and events leading up to it
The grand jury ruled Kleinert created “a substantial and unjustifiable risk” when he attempted to physically control Jackson while holding a loaded gun, court documents said. It also said Kleinert recklessly caused Jackson’s death by striking him while holding a loaded firearm in that hand.
On July 26, Jackson showed up at a bank that had just been robbed — a crime scene Kleinert was investigating. Police said the detective began questioning Jackson after bank staff said they recognized him as a man who might try to defraud the bank. When Jackson ran off after the detective questioned him, Kleinert followed the 32-year-old. The chase ended near Shoal Creek in Central Austin, and Kleinert’s position is that the deadly gunshot that hit Jackson in the neck was accidental.
The grand jury said Kleinert did not maintain a sufficient distance from Jackson in which he could safely holster the gun.
On Oct. 7, 2013, the Citizen’s Review Panel had a hearing on the case, conducted at the request of the Police Monitor’s Office. It could be considered by the grand jury but does not necessarily have to be used in any criminal proceeding.
Kleinert’s time on the force
- Avoid internal discipline from the chief that might have followed October’s Citizen’s Review Panel hearing and its recommendations.
- Immediately collect his pension. It is granted to officers who have served a full 23 years. Kleinert was able to buy out his remaining three years and several months to permit the collection of a full pension. The Austin Police Association confirms an officer’s pension is theirs to keep even in the event of a criminal conviction.
Austin police salary scales for 2013-2014 show a detective corporal with 19-20 years of service earns up to $99,800 a year. The prior year pay scale shows a salary of $98,327. A senior police official said Tuesday officers who have served a full 23 years retire on 73.6 percent of the highest three years of the last ten years of base salary.
Pension records are protected under state law, but calculations show Kleinert will be eligible to collect $72,329 annually. It will be taxed at a normal rate, the official said. The Austin City Council decided in February it could not reach a lawsuit settlement with the family of Larry Jackson, Jr. before a Travis County grand jury got the case.
Jackson’s parents and sister filed a separate civil suit against the city and APD. They are represented by another attorney. Any money for lawsuit settlement would come from the city’s liability reserve fund. The city has a financial cap on any award.