SCSJ Files Brief in Police Shooting Case

Justice System Reform

SCSJ Files Amicus Curiae Brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Urging Reversal of District Court Grant of Immunity in Controversial Police Shooting Case

Brief, submitted on behalf of Texas NAACP, argues decision sets a dangerous precedent

AUSTIN, TX (February 23, 2016) – This afternoon, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of State of Texas v. Charles Kleinert. The brief, which was submitted on behalf of the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches and its affiliate, the Austin NAACP, concerns the death of an unarmed African-American man, Larry Jackson, Jr., killed in 2013 by a point blank gunshot to the back of the head fired by Austin police officer Charles Kleinert.  Kleinert claimed he killed Jackson by accident after attempting to bludgeon him with a loaded pistol.  By Kleinert’s own account, Jackson posed him no threat and was being pursued for a non-violent crime at the time of his death.
Following a state grand jury indictment for manslaughter, Officer Kleinert’s attorneys invoked a rarely utilized federal removal statute, transferring criminal jurisdiction from the State of Texas to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, whereupon U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted Officer Kleinert immunity from criminal prosecution.  Citing Kleinert’s participation in a federal task force, and relying heavily on separation of powers principles that the NAACP contends were inapposite to the case, Judge Yeakel found the officer was entitled to Supremacy Clause immunity.  In what the NAACP contends is a dangerous precedent, the district court held that Texas could not criminally charge an officer acting in a federal capacity for objectively reckless conduct resulting in the death of an arrestee.
In its brief in support of the State of Texas, the NAACP argues that, contrary to the holding of the federal district court, it can never been “necessary” or “proper” to knowingly place the suspect of a nonviolent crime at a substantial and unjustifiable risk of serious injury or death.  The organization asserts that the court’s opinion to the contrary amounts to a blueprint for police officers affiliated with federal agencies to evade accountability for conduct that would otherwise be regarded as criminal.  This danger is particularly acute in light of the recent proliferation of joint state-federal task forces and the increasing number of officers who could exploit this loophole by invoking some nexus to federal authority.
Ian Mance, an SCSJ staff attorney who authored the brief, pointed to a series of recent incidents of police-involved shootings captured on camera as evidence that any rule permitting a grant of immunity on the basis of an officer’s self-serving statement will inevitably result in injustice.  “As the videos from the recent cases of Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, and Laquan McDonald make painfully clear, police officers are not above mischaracterizing circumstances giving rise to their decision to employ deadly force.  When the shooting officer is the only surviving witness, courts must carefully scrutinize the factual record and physical evidence before taking the extraordinary step of granting immunity.  That clearly did not happen in this case.  The federal district court’s decision to strip Texas courts of jurisdiction and grant Officer Kleinert immunity for his shooting of Mr. Jackson represents a significant blow to the public trust.  We are hopeful that the Fifth Circuit will reverse the district court’s decision and remand the case back to Texas courts.”

You can read the brief here.