NAACP leader examines police training after shooting of teen

Officer involved shooting on East Yager Lane. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)
Officer involved shooting on East Yager Lane. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Seconds after interacting with an unarmed and naked black teenager, the teen charged an Austin police officer. The officer shot his gun. The teenager died.

That is what police say happened Monday when Officer Geoffrey Freeman responded to a disturbance call that ended in the death of 17-year-old David Joseph.

Investigators, the district attorney’s office and a grand jury will now pore over those few seconds. All of them will be examining what happened, policy and the law.

“Like most families in these situations, they are devastated about losing their son,” said Nelson Linder, NAACP Austin President.

Linder says he’s spoken with Joseph’s family. As Linder begins looking at the case, he’s also looking to his years advocating to improve training and policies outlining interactions between police and people who have mental health issues. Linder does not have any indication Joseph suffered from mental health issues. However, he believes the techniques for interaction, providing assistance and deescalation for officers specializing in mental health response could have been key in handing the situation Monday.

Despite no known link to mental illness in this case, Linder believes Joseph’s behavior alone should have been enough to warrant the input and response of the Austin Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team, which specializes in handling mental health cases.

“What was the circumstance? If a person is naked in the street, something is going on mentally, I think we can all assume that,” said Linder.

APD policy states that specialized Crisis Intervention Team Officers are required for “any situation where the responding officer believes that a person’s mental health is adversely affecting the persons behavior.”

Police say the situation Monday unfolded rapidly and Officer Geoffrey Freeman never called for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer. Although police say Freeman was not a CIT officer, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records show Officer Freeman had nearly 40 hours of Mental Health Officer training from the Austin Police Academy in 2005. All APD officers get a baseline of 40 hours in mental health training, according to APD. The 162 officers with the Crisis Intervention Team get an additional 40 hours of specialized training.

Police say Officer Geoffrey Freeman was initially driving out to a call for a disturbance Monday. It wasn’t until after he began looking into that call that he saw Joseph, naked. From there, police say there was little time in the interaction for Officer Freeman to call for a member of the Crisis Intervention Team.

“What is captured on the in-car camera [showed the time between] when Officer Freeman gives his initial commands to Mr. Joseph and the time in which Mr. Joseph charges towards Officer Freeman was a matter of seconds,” said APD Chief of Staff Brian Manley Tuesday.

APD reports officers wrote nearly 11,000 reports in 2014 related to mental health issues. That’s up from more than 6,000 reports in 2007. In a Public Safety Commission meeting in December, police said one reason for the increase is officers getting better at spotting and categorizing mental health cases. The police presentation to the commission also showed officers used force in more than 140 mental health cases in 2014. Still, APD points out that force was in less than two percent of the total mental health cases.

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