Jury: APD officer not liable in Byron Carter's death




Posted on June 11, 2013 at 4:31 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 11 at 11:22 PM

AUSTIN -- Just before 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, a jury reached a verdict in the civil trial of an Austin police officer and the City of Austin. The family of a man shot and killed by an APD officer was asking for $1.5 million in the wrongful death lawsuit.

The jury determined Officer Nathan Wagner did not use excessive force when he shot and killed 20-year-old Byron Carter Jr. Thus, no monetary reward will be given to the Carter family.

Members of the Carter family left the courthouse in tears. They say the verdict is an injustice to their family and an "injustice to all black men in Austin."

"It's a message to all blacks, young black men. As long as you're black, you're wrong. To the young  men of Austin, Texas be very very careful around cops, because as long as you're black, you're wrong," said Gloria Clark, Carter's grandmother.

Officer Wagner and his partner were on bike patrol in an area with a lot of car break-ins the night of May 30, 2011. They followed Carter and a young man who they said were acting suspicious. The two got in a car, and when police approached, they sped off. Carter was in the passenger seat when his friend allegedly hit Wagner's partner with the vehicle. Wagner then fired at the car, shooting and killing Carter.

Attorneys for both sides addressed the jury for more than an hour Tuesday morning, asking them to determine whether Officer Wagner violated Carter's 4th Amendment rights by using excessive force in his death.

Plantiff's Attorney Adam Loewy spoke first, addressing the importance of the case and its link to the fundamental way our government, in this case a police officer, should behave. He claimed the officers were sneaking up on the driver of the car that night, Lee Webb, and Carter, saying that just before midnight the area was not "well lit" as APD Police Chief Art Acevedo testified.
Loewy also questioned why the defense never produced the doctor that treated Wagner's partner, Officer Rodriguez, that night.

Defense Attorney Robert Icenhauer then had his turn to respond, saying if the testimony of one of those doctors was so crucial, why hadn't Loewy put them on the stand.
Icenhauer also asked the jury to consider Wagner's rights, saying that just because his job is to protect the public, doesn't mean he doesn't have rights to defend himself. He claims Wagner acted appropriately in the immediate danger of injury or death.

In the end, the jury sided with Icenhauer.

Following the verdict's reading, the Austin Police Department released the following statement:

The Austin Police Department appreciates everyone's time, patience and effort in seeing this process through. We also want to thank Judge Yeakel for his handling of this case, and express our respect for the jury's thoughtful deliberation.

First and foremost, APD believes that there is no winner when an officer is required to use deadly force. Any loss of life is tragic, and our deepest condolences go to the family of Byron Carter, Jr. No officer ever wants to be in the position of having to take the life of another. The facts of this case confirmed that Officers Wagner and Rodriguez were placed in a life-threatening situation that required the use of deadly force.

This incident has been reviewed thoroughly by Internal Affairs, our Special Investigations Unit, a Travis County Grand Jury and - most recently - a Federal Civil Rights lawsuit. In each proceeding, the officers were found to have acted lawfully, within the scope of their authority and consistent with their training. That has been the position of the department from the beginning of this process.

In the interest of full transparency, we will be reviewing what additional information can be released regarding the investigation now that these proceedings are complete.


KVUE's Jessica Holloway will have more on this story on KVUE News at 6 p.m.