Austin, TX (Law Firm Newswire) February 20, 2019 – This wrongful death lawsuit involves the family of a 19-year-old young man who fatally shot himself in 2017 in the backseat of an Austin, Texas police cruiser. The family wants to make sure something like this never happens again.
The young man had been previously charged with several other crimes, including drug possession and burglary. Those who knew the deceased indicated he struggled with mental health issues and had a history of substance abuse.
The federal wrongful death lawsuit alleges that the police in Austin have a “pattern, practice, and custom of performing plainly incompetent and unreasonable searches of pre-trial detainees.” These allegations were based on the circumstances of their son’s case.
It all began with a call to the police reporting a shoplifter at the Macy’s store in southwest Austin. Store security had detained the young man for cutting tags off clothing, earrings and a watch and attempting to walk out of the store. On placing the young man into custody, the police found what they believed to be methamphetamine tucked inside a folded dollar bill. “Apparently, for whatever reasons, the pat down search missed a Glock semi-automatic .380 in the waistband,” indicated Brooks Schuelke, an Austin wrongful death attorney, not involved in this case.
Dispatch recordings indicated that the teen told the arresting officer that he was suicidal. The officer then saw in his rear-view mirror that the 19-year-old was holding a gun to his head. Four minutes later, the trigger was pulled and the teen lay dead in the backseat of the cruiser.
In a subsequent Internal Affairs (IA) interview with the arresting police officer, the cop admitted he only patted down the suspect and did not do a thorough inspection for weapons. He did not see the inside-the-waistband holster inside the teen’s pants. The officer was suspended for 20 days and the case was not forwarded to the grand jury.
According to the wrongful death lawsuit, the Austin Police Department (APD) did not find weapons that were carried by suspects on 54 occasions between 2013 and 2017. Although the police leadership knew about this, nothing was done and no new training for weapons searches was implemented.
The plaintiffs in this case were not in agreement with the minimal discipline and hope that something like this never happens to another person and their family. They are calling for the APD to retrain all officers on how to properly frisk suspects. “In this case, the suspect killed himself. He could just as easily have killed the officer in the cruiser, or harmed someone else,” said Schuelke.
Wrongful death lawsuits are difficult for everyone involved and this particular case is no exception.“We can help the family move forward by getting the true story out,” added Schuelke. “While it does not bring the loved one back, it may help the family find some sense of closure to have the death addressed in a just manner.”