Austin council withdraws settlement with children of man killed by police


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on February 12, 2014 at 7:20 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 13 at 7:48 PM

AUSTIN -- The Austin City Council decided Thursday not to pay the children of a man killed in an officer-involved shooting to avoid a lawsuit.

The decision was announced after the council spent nearly two and a half hours in executive session discussing the matter.

The news came as a surprise to many people including Bobby Taylor, the attorney for Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr.'s three children. Taylor has worked with the city for nearly seven months and believed an agreement would be reached Thursday. 

But after executive session, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the city's legal department advised them to wait until the criminal case against the former Austin Police Detective Charles Kleinert goes before the grand jury.

It has been said a settlement could taint the grand jury pool for that case.

Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole, an attorney herself, expressed her disappointment with the decision in the meeting.

"The death of Larry Jackson was a very tragic incident faced by our community, and I believe that the settlement of this case involving his minor children would have been in order. In meeting with legal counsel I have learned that we have never settled a case prior to a grand jury investigation, and they believed we should wait until after that event has occurred," Cole said.

When KVUE News broke the story that the council was considering a settlement, the Austin Police Association spoke out against it, saying it could violate Kleinert's civil rights. On Thursday, a spokesman for the department said the association is pleased with the council's decision.

"It would have been unfair to me, to both parties. For one thing, we shouldn't be making any decisions before the grand jury, because they are suppose to have all the facts," said Kenneth Casaday, spokesman for the Austin Police Association. "We felt like it could taint the process, because if they would have done a settlement today, you have people who are sitting on the grand jury right now that would have seen the opinion of the city council."

However, Taylor says civil and criminal cases are based on different pieces of evidence and assuming the grand jury would not be able to differentiate between the two is insulting.

"I was hoping we could keep the politics out, now what they're saying is they're going to wait and see whether the grand jury indicts or whether the grand jury does not indict. That doesn't change the fact that these kids have lost their father and they need help," Taylor said.

"There's clear evidence to indicate somebody killed Larry Jackson, Jr. It was a police officer. Larry Jackson, Jr. didn't have a gun. Larry Jackson, Jr. did have children. Somebody should be responsible. But I don't think there's anybody out there listening or anybody out there who knows who doesn't believe the City of Austin should compensate these minor children," Taylor added.

On July 26, 2013, Kleinert shot Jackson in the back of the neck, leaving Jackson's three children without a father.

"Of all people, they're the innocent ones. You know, they had nothing to do with what their dad did or didn't do, whether he did or didn't have a check, whether he was trying to pass a check. All they know is, our dad didn't come home," said Taylor.

Kleinert, then a detective with APD, went to Benchmark Bank near Shoal Creek and 35th Street to investigate an unrelated robbery. Jackson tried to enter the bank and employees say he claimed to be someone they knew he wasn't. When Kleinert tried to question Jackson he ran. Kleinert chased him, at one point getting into the car of a civilian, to a bridge underneath Shoal Creek.

Kleinert says the two struggled, and he accidentally shot Jackson. Three months later, Kleinert retired from the department. The internal investigation was subsequently closed and the records on the matter sealed.

Jackson's parents have filed a lawsuit against the city to see those records and have asked for financial compensation.

Taylor was hoping to settle the matter without having to file a lawsuit, a solution that would have been cheaper for the city and would provide money to the children more quickly.

"How often do you have an officer say, 'I made a mistake. I shot somebody. My mistake.' That's a rare situation. So, it's one of these, I mean, it's one of these we don't have to fight about whether there was justification or not. It's just a matter of what we do now," Taylor said.

The question of what to do now has become more complicated with the council's decision, Taylor said. He will now have to talk with the children's mother to decide if they will move forward with a lawsuit.

According to the attorney representing Jackson's parents in a separate lawsuit against the city, the Travis County District Attorney's Office is expected to present the case to a grand jury in March.