AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin police officer involved in last month’s deadly shooting of 17-year-old David Joseph has been fired by the Austin Police Department.
Officer Geoffrey Freeman, 41, was scheduled for a disciplinary hearing on Monday afternoon, but his attorney said he waived his rights to the hearing because he already answered all the questions the department asked. Since Freeman waived his right to a hearing, it was up to Chief Art Acevedo to determine his fate with the department.
Police say Freeman shot and killed Joseph, who was unarmed and naked on Feb. 8 in North Austin. Freeman was originally called to an apartment complex in the 300 block of East Yager Lane for a report of a man chasing another man around the complex. When Freeman arrived, he spoke to the witness but was not able to immediately locate the suspect, until a short time later on Natures Bend. In a verbal statement given by Freeman at the scene, when he encountered Joseph he gave him several commands to stop, but Joseph continued to “charge” towards him. The Austin Police Department’s Chief of Staff Brian Manley said it was then that Freeman fired the shots at Joseph, which occurred out of frame from the officer’s dash camera.
In a press conference Monday, Acevedo said after a long investigation involving Freeman’s supervisors and other department heads, he determined “based on the totality of circumstances, we didn’t agree that the officer’s use of deadly force was needed” and that it was not “justified in this case.” He goes on to say Freeman’s actions were not “consistent with the standards and training of the Austin Police Department.”
According to Freeman’s disciplinary memo, Freeman “chose to confront Mr. Joseph alone” and he “chose to utilize deadly force… even though he knew other officers had yet to arrive but were imminently in route.” Since Freeman was concerned the subject was possibly “losing it or high or something,” the memo indicates he should have waited for back-up since the subject was displaying symptoms of “Substance Induced Excited Delirium.”
Freeman told investigators he had his weapon drawn, while the subject “was naked, unarmed and had not injured any person.” Acevedo cited in the memo that Freeman “chose to immediately respond to this situation with deadly force rather than using a lesser amount of force that was available to him (ASP, Taser, Pepper Spray, physical force).”
Last week, Freeman’s attorney, Grant Goodwin, also accused Acevedo of pre-deciding the case. This conclusion was drawn based on the Chief’s statements to the media and the Joseph family. In a letter to Acevedo, Freeman’s attorney said, “Your statements and conduct prior to the completion of the investigation, including statements made to the media, activists, APD cadets and officers indicate that you are passing judgment on this case without regard to APD training, policy or the integrity of the investigation.”
In a response to the firing, a spokesperson for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas says they are putting Acevedo “on notice” and the agency plans on appealing the “unjust and politically motivated firing” of Freeman. The Austin Police Association says it believes “Officer Freeman will be exonerated after the Grand Jury process.”
Acevedo says his decision wasn’t politically motivated and responded to CLEAT’s comment directly: “I’ve been here for nine years now, if anyone knows this chief, it’s them. We base our decision on facts, based on policy, based on the law, not based on which way the wind’s going. My job is not to take a poll, my job is to make a call. It was a call I made unanimously and I stand by it.”
Last week, Joseph’s family told KXAN the autopsy results showed there was Xanax, Antihistamines and marijuana in his system. The family says there was not gunshot residue on Joseph, which shows the two were several feet apart.
“My family is glad to hear that Officer Freeman will not hurt any other unarmed Black men,” said Fally Joseph, David’s brother, in a statement. “When he took my brother away from us, he stole something no one can ever give us back. We are glad to know that the City of Austin thinks David’s life mattered, and that Officer Freeman will not be on the streets again.”
“Chief Acevedo’s apology is appreciated, but rings hollow unless he takes immediate steps to protect young, Black and minority kids from being shot. We urge Chief Acevedo to immediately take the other steps actually recommended by the police union, such as making sure each shift is fully staffed, and that officers have recurring training in using non-lethal force. David would be alive with his family today if Freeman wasn’t the only officer on the scene, and if he’d been trained to use non-lethal force first,” said Joseph’s family attorney Jeff Edwards.
While the community still has some unanswered questions, Acevedo wants to remind everyone there are two families involved in this incident.
“I urge people to not demonize a person,” said Acevedo. “Ofc. Freeman but for this horrible set of circumstances, he served honorably. But based on this set of circumstances we don’t believe he needs to remain in this department.”
Joseph family lawyers react
The Joseph family lawyers watched the announcement from their office.
“Here the facts were so egregious that there was really only one conclusion for the police department to draw. I’m pleased that they drew the appropriate conclusion,” said Jeff Edwards, who represents the Joseph’s, “David, like any young man needed some help. Instead he was met with bullets.”
Freeman, who had been with APD for 10 years, has 10 days to file an appeal.
The department is also filing a motion to withhold the Internal Affairs records from public release as the District Attorney’s Office continues its investigation.