De-escalation training emphasized, debated in David Joseph shooting

David Joseph (left) and APD officer Geoffery Freeman (right)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Citizen Review Panel recommendations following the shooting death of David Joseph were made public following the indefinite suspension of Officer Geoffrey Freeman. The recommendations included firing Freeman, something that happened just days later, and also reassigning training academy officers they believe encourage escalation rather than de-escalation.

The review panel memo states Freeman opened his patrol car door and yelled “stop” while parked more than 100 feet from Joseph. The teenager then immediately charged at Freeman, getting near him in 6.7 seconds before two shots were fired. Freeman’s use of deadly force was not objectively reasonable according to the panel who state an objectively reasonable officer, at most, would have used a Taser or baton.

But the panel also takes aim at the Austin Police Department Training Academy. During their review, the panel was able to see an interview with a training officer. Based on that testimony, the panel said such training officers should not be assigned to the academy since their mindset will encourage escalation rather than de-escalation for new recruits.

According to the citizen’s review panel report, the training officer was asked if it is acceptable for a cadet in training to back away from a subject with a knife who does not comply with orders to drop the weapon:

“That is an option, but if the cadet starts to back up… and take no action, then we will stop the exercise and have a discussion about what the cadet is thinking. Here in Texas, here in APD, we do not have a duty to retreat and we are not asking our officers to retreat all the way out the door and get back in their cars and go home. They need to take some kind of actions.”

The panel stated this testimony implies that de-escalation is discouraged rather than encouraged.

“It is a national movement,” said Jerry Staton, a former training officer at the APD Training Academy who now is the owner of Affordable Realistic Tactical Training. He says de-escalation is being emphasized across the country after high-profile police shooting events.

“In general, it is to find ways to lessen the number of times you have to use force to solve problems.”

He said that could include an officer keeping distance or not approaching a potentially dangerous subject until backup arrives or other verbal commands. However, he said de-escalation is difficult to apply the same way in every situation.

“A big part of if de-escalation works or doesn’t work depends on the person you are trying to calm down,” said Staton who also considered the potential effects of officer’s waiting for help. “You are going to have situation where the failure to act is going to produce other results, also.”

Police officer shortages, including at APD, also increase the likelihood the wait for backup could take longer according to Staton. In Freeman’s case, the first backup officer arrived 64 seconds after Freeman fired the shots. The second officer arrived 35 seconds after the first backup officer.

Staton believes officers have to use de-escalation based on a variety of factors that a policy on paper might not consider.

“I just do not think you can train a police officer to have all the answers. He has to make decisions based on what he knows at the time.”

Members of the Citizen Review Panel must be an Austin resident for at least two years with no felony criminal history. They receive 6 hours of Internal Affairs training and must attend 3-4 training days in different APD departments including two ride-alongs with officers.

The Citizen Review Review Panel memorandum to Chief Acevedo:

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