AUSTIN (KXAN) — A federal judge has dismissed the state’s manslaughter indictment against former Austin Police Detective Charles Kleinert.
According to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, at the time of Larry Jackson Jr.’s deadly shooting Kleinert “acted as a federal officer.” The ruling goes onto say, “In each case, the officer was performing a federal function when the factual chain of events began.”
Though he was an APD detective at the time, Kleinert was also a member of a federal task and was investigating a bank robbery, a federal crime. During federal court proceedings over the past few months, the State tried to convince Judge Yeakel that Kleinert’s actions were not called for. The prosecutors posed the question as to whether or not Kleinert needed to even stop Jackson in the first place.
Judge Yeakel says Kleinert was acting as a federal officer “from his first to last encounter with Jackson. At all times, Kleinert was attempting to detain and arrest Jackson for committing federal offenses.” The federal court concluded the State failed to provide any “evidence that raises a genuine issue of fact that Kleinert’s belief in the propriety of his conduct was objectively unreasonable.” Siting case law from Connecticut v. Marra, Yeakel states “A federal officer is not required to show that his actions were in fact necessary or in retrospect justifiable. He only must show that he reasonably thought his actions to be necessary and justifiable.”
Kleinert shot and killed Jackson Jr. in July of 2013 after Jackson Jr. appeared at the scene of a bank robbery in Central Austin. Jackson Jr. fled the scene as Kleinert questioned him, prompting the veteran police officer to chase Jackson Jr. who was shot during a struggle.
“This is one of the worst days I’ve had in my legal career. I’m a strong believer in the justice system, but tonight showed the justice system does not always work,” said Adam Loewy, the attorney representing Jackson’s parents in the civil suit against Kleinert. Jackson’s mother and step-father are devastated by the judge’s ruling according to Loewy who plans to speak with the Department of Justice about opening a federal criminal inquiry into the shooting. “Larry Mercer (Jackson’s stepfather) told me he fought for this country, he served for the military, and now he feels like he is not even a part of this country anymore.”
Although the state indictment is dismissed and Kleinert has been granted immunity when it comes to state prosecution, the possibility for federal prosecution still exists. Adam Loewy, the Jackson family attorney in the civil case, tells KXAN News a federal case against Kleinert is unlikely.
The decision from Judge Yeakel is subject to an appeal, but as of right now, it appears Kleinert will avoid criminal prosecution. Kleinert’s attorney Randy Leavitt said his client was feeling mixed emotions of relief and excitement following the ruling. Leavitt released the following statement applauding the decision:
“The court’s decision to dismiss this case is 100 percent correct. This state criminal case should never have been brought. State prosecutors cannot bring criminal charges to second-guess, Monday morning quarterback, or micromanage the conduct of a federal officer in carrying out his or her duties. This is a basic rule that comes from the federal-state system put in place by our country’s founders.The death of Larry Jackson was an accident that occurred because Mr. Jackson actively resisted Mr. Kleinert’s efforts to arrest Mr. Jackson for a federal crime. This accidental death would not have happened if Mr. Jackson did not commit a crime, and it would not have happened if Mr. Jackson had not resisted efforts by a federal officer to arrest him for that crime.It is our hope that the District Attorney will accept the court’s ruling. In the event Ms. Lehmberg decides to appeal, we will vigorously defend the federal court’s correct decision.”
Lehmberg said she was “totally dismayed” by the decision and would review the court’s decision before determining what steps may be taken in the future.
“With this federal court action dismissing the case, it appears that an Austin Police Department officer can be assigned to a federal task force and avoid prosecution in state court,” said Lehmberg in her statement.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement, “The Austin Police Department respects the courts ruling and the rule of law. Our thoughts are with everyone involved in this tragic incident and their families. I have reached out to community leaders and have shared the aforementioned thoughts on this matter. I know Austin citizens have been aware of the possibility of this judicial ruling in the criminal case, and we have had many conversations about it in the community. I hope all parties will continue a productive dialogue.”
The ruling to dismiss the indictment could speed along the process in the civil case filed by Jackson’s parents. Judge Lee Yeakel is also presiding over the civil proceedings and Loewy said the goal is to have a trial date by the spring of 2016.
From Travis County to Federal Court
A Travis County grand jury indicted Kleinert on a manslaughter charge in 2014 after hearing his testimony about the shooting. The panel ruled Kleinert created “a substantial and unjustifiable risk” when he attempted to physically control Jackson while holding a loaded gun, court documents show. They also contend Kleinert recklessly caused Jackson’s death by striking him while holding his service weapon. Kleinert has maintained the shooting was accidental during a struggle to arrest Jackson Jr.
On Dec. 5, 2014, Kleinert plead not guilty to the manslaughter charge. On Dec. 31, 2014, Kleinert’s attorneys filed a request to have his case moved to federal court because they argued he was acting as a federal officer at the time of the shooting. When Judge Yeakel originally ruled on the move in January of this year, Yeakel called the case “a unique situation.”