AUSTIN (KXAN) — At times shouting loudly to recreate his commands and at other times with a cracked voice, Charles Kleinert retold and even physically reenacted the actions that led up to the shooting death of Larry Jackson Jr. The former Austin Police Detective took the stand on Wednesday in federal court for a hearing he hopes will lead to the dismissal of the manslaughter charged against him.
“I was crushed. I was devastated,” said Kleinert about Jackson’s death. But when asked multiple times if the actions he took were necessary to his job as an officer, Kleinert stood firm each and every time in saying he was performing his duties.
Although he was an APD employee at the time, Kleinert’s defense team argues because he was serving in the capacity of a federal agent at the time of the July 26, 2013 shooting, the case should be dropped based on a federal immunity statute. They have already successfully convinced Judge Lee Yeakel to try the case in federal court rather than a Travis County District Court.
The hearing to dismiss is expected to last three days with multiple witnesses testifying before Yeakel will make any rulings.
While on the stand, Kleinert said he was serving on the Central Texas Violent Crimes Task Force and investigating a robbery at the Benchmark Bank near Shoal Creek when Jackson approached the bank. After a conversation with Jackson, Kleinert believed him to be a bank fraud suspect and pursued when Jackson tried to run away on foot. After commanding a driver to give him a ride, Kleinert said he encountered Jackson coming out from underneath a bridge over Shoal Creek.
“I said ‘Get down on the ground!’ testified Kleinert with raised voice. “I felt he was going to comply and get on the ground because he stopped, but he didn’t. He began running.”
Using a replica handgun and a wooden incline to simulate the sloped ground where Kleinert said the two men had a physical struggle, he recreated the struggle using his attorney Eric Nichols to play the role of Jackson.
“I used my right hand to hit him in the lower back two times and said ‘Get down!’ He did not respond at all.”
Kleniert said he went to deliver a third strike using his right hand, the same hand holding his handgun, but Jackson spun back around and knocked him off-balance to the ground.
“As I fall, I hear my gun discharge and I thought to myself ‘Why did my gun discharge? My finger is on the slide,” said Kleinert who became slightly emotional when talking about the gun shot he claims was never meant to be fired.
Both men fell face down and beside each other according to Kleinert who said he realized what exactly happened when he saw Jackson’s face, blood coming out of his mouth and fixed eyes. A 3 ½ minute call Kleinert made to report what happened was played in the courtroom. In the call, Kleinert is panting heavily and out of breath as he tries to give an accurate location of where the shooting occurred.
The technique Kleinert came under question. He testified he had not received any defensive tactic training since at least 2009, but was never taught anything to discourage the use of a hammer fist while holding a weapon in the same hand.
Listen to Kleinert’s Call to Dispatch (edited for content):
A photo showing a single gunshot wound in the back of Larry Jackson Jr.’s neck was among autopsy evidence presented Wednesday.
Former Travis County Medical Examiner David Dolinak conducted the autopsy on Larry Jackson Jr. and said a “muzzle imprint” on the back of Jackson’s neck just below the wound indicates the barrel of a firearm was pressed against the skin at the time the shot was fired. Jackson’s family looked down to the floor and wiped away tears as the picture of the back of his head was shown to the court.
In grand jury testimony, Kleinert has said his gun went off accidentally while he struggled with Jackson. That struggle occurred after Kleinert chased down Jackson, whom he believed was trying to commit bank fraud. Kleinert was investigating an unrelated bank robbery which occurred earlier in the day when Jackson approached the door. The investigation included a federal task force of which Kleinert is a member.
Other autopsy evidence revealed Jackson had two rib fractures and injuries to his intestines, but the defense argues those injuries were suffered the day before in a car accident involving Jackson. A picture showed severe front-end damage and airbag deployed in the vehicle Jackson was in approximately 20 hours prior according to testimony. Dolinak said is more than likely Jackson suffered the bodily injuries in the crash rather than from Kleinert.
A small, clear vile was found on Jackson and tested positive for amounts of PCP. Detectable amounts of marijuana were also found in Jackson’s system according to Dolinak. The defense will make a case PCP is known to cause violent behavior.
Kleinert Commanded Driver
Regina Bethune became involved in the chase between Kleinert and Jackson although she did it without much knowledge or say. While leaving her job at Shoal Creek Medical Center, she said she came across Kleinert waving his arms and saying “Stop, APD” before getting inside her car.
“He seemed agitated, red -faced, and breathless,” said Bethune on the stand.
Although he identified himself as APD, Bethune said she was not completely sure Kleinert was an officer. He was wearing plain clothes and did not explain what he was doing according to Bethune, only giving commands which she followed.
When he pointed in the direction of Jackson, Bethune said Jackson appeared to be walking at a normal pace. She asked Kleinert if the man they were following was dangerous and he responded “no.” She testified as she approached Jackson, Kleinert asked her to slow down and leaned back in the passenger seat as to now be seen. During his own testimony, Kleinert said he told the woman Jackson was not a threat to her individually.
When Kleinert got out of the car, Bethune said he did not ask her to call 911 but she did call police when she got home.