Teen charged with attempted capital murder of officer

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin police officer is recovering after he was shot in the knee while serving a warrant at a home in North Austin early Thursday morning.

According to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, the injured officer is James Pittman, a SWAT team member who has been with the department for seven years. He is currently alert, stable and surrounded by family.

Acevedo said Pittman was shot while serving an arrest warrant with the special weapons SWAT unit just before 6 a.m. When officers arrived at the duplex, on the 1000 block of Morrow Street, they deployed the PA system announcing they were conducting a warrant. Additionally, officers utilized flash distraction devices to distract the suspect inside the duplex.

Neighbors say it was quite a scary wake up call just before sunrise.

“My bedroom window backs up against the fence shared to the house so it was pretty loud in my room. I jumped up and went into my roommate’s room and called 911,” Emily Watkins, a neighbor said.

Tyler Harrell is accused of shooting an APD officer on April 14, 2016. (APD)
Tyler Harrell is accused of shooting an APD officer on April 14, 2016. (APD)

In a press conference, Acevedo said the suspect was upstairs looking down at officers with a long rifle. The suspect opened fire on the uniformed police officers, striking Pittman in the knee. In an effort to get the injured officer out of the home, Officer Leighton Radtke returned fire without hitting anyone and the mission was aborted.

“Our SWAT team wears very distinctive uniform and in this case it was very visible for the suspect,” said Acevedo.

The injured officer did not shoot at the suspect. Since Officer Radtke did return fire, he is on paid administrative leave during the investigation. He has been with the department for eight years. Acevedo made it a point in the news conference to mention that both officers are white males.

The suspect, 18-year-old Tyler Michael Harrell, exited the house at 6:11 a.m. with a woman believed to be his mother. Harrell is currently in jail, charged with attempted capital murder. Police believe the suspect was engaged in narcotics sales. Acevedo said they found evidence of drugs at the duplex.

“I couldn’t believe it, I had grown up with him and I hung out with him, he was a good kid,” Collin Trautman, a friend of Harrell’s said. “I just can’t believe anything that’s going on right now so we just came down to check it out and see with our own eyes.”

The Austin police bomb squad was at the scene Thursday. They are working to clear the location with bomb squad robots.

A concurrent investigation with Internal Affairs and the Austin Police Monitor will be conducted to ensure officers followed policies and procedures.

In a message to the community, Acevedo asked “the community to say prayers for the officer.” They hope he will fully recover for duty.

This is the second APD officer shot in as many weeks. On Sunday, April 3, Officer Armando Perez, 37, was shot in the abdomen after he tried to apprehend a suspected car burglar. 

Acevedo acknowledged it has been a trying few weeks for the department.

“Although people have tried to take two lives of our officers, our folks still come to work day in and day out in the mission of keeping Austin one of the safest big cities in the country,” said Acevedo. “I hope the public takes some time to help me help lift them up in these challenging weeks.”

The president of the Austin Police Association also made a point to mention, all officers are on high alert as they deal with a culture that seems to be bold enough to shoot officers.

“The blatant disrespect you see a lot of younger children having for not only their parents, but for law-enforcement, for their own teachers, is very alarming,” Ken Casaday, APA President said.

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