The jury in the federal lawsuit brought by the family of Byron Carter Jr. ruled in favor of the Austin Police Department on Tuesday.
The jury's decision means that jurors found that The officer who shot and killed the 20-year-old Carter and wounded his friend on the night of May 30, 2011, did not violate Carter's rights protecting him from unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
The Police Department issued a statement pointing out that internal investigations found that its rules were not violated by the officers involved in the shooting. Officer Nathan Wagner has said he fired at the car Carter and his friend were in because he believed that his partner, Officer Jeffrey Rodriguez, was in danger of being run over.
"First and foremost, APD believes that there is no winner when an officer is required to use deadly force," the statement said. "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."
Carter's mother, Felisha Wallace, was seen crying when the ruling was announced in the courtroom and needed help walking down the courthouse steps afterward. The man's grandmother said the ruling took away her faith in the legal system.
"It was very political, it was very racial and it was not fair," Gloria Clark told reporters outside the courthouse. "There is no justice at all and I have no faith in this system."
Carter family attorney Adam Loewy said he respects the jury's decision and accepted responsibility for not winning a winnable case but still placed a measure of blame on the city.
"You have an African-American kid who was a passenger and was killed, and the City Council doesn't care," said Loewy.
The Police Department said the shooting was "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," the statement said.
Closing arguments started and finished Tuesday before it went to the jury, more than two years after the shooting death that the Austin Police Department contends stemmed from a car lunging at two of its officers.
Each side had 45 minutes for closing arguments.
Loewy said the defendants are clearly in the wrong, calling the situation "a total debacle of an operation" that police tried to justify.
Loewy alluded that Rodriguez was never hit by the car that Carter and driver Lee Webb were in that night of the shooting -- adding that Rodriguez did not suffer physical injuries. He also said the officers' approach was inappropriate, sneaking up on the two men inside the car using the cloak of night and the element of surprise.
Defense attorney Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez said their approach and whether or not Rodriguez was hit is irrelevant to the case and whether or not excessive force was justified. He added that because Wagner thought his life was in danger, those two other elements are irrelevant.
"Officers put their lives on the line every day they go to work," said Ramirez. "It's not fair that they don't have the right to protect themselves."
A ballistics expert testified that the bullets were fired 5- to 11 inches away from the window of the car, showing that one move of the steering wheel could've run over Wagner. The expert testified that the proximity of the gunshots showed imminent danger.
The Carter family sought $1.5 million for past and future damages, which would have gone to Carter's father, mother and young son.
In-Depth: Criteria for the civil case
The jury does not decide innocence or guilt but must answer two questions:
Question No. 1: Did plaintiff prove with a preponderance of evidence that Wagner violated Carter's Fourth Amendment rights?
- If the jury answers "No," then the defendant is not liable.
- If the jury answers "Yes," they move onto question No. 2.
Question No. 2: Would an "objectively reasonable" officer believe shooting at the vehicle was lawful?
- If the jury answers "Yes," then they go no further.
- If the jury answer "No," the defense is liable. They then begin the process of deciding dollar amounts for awarding damages.
The answer combination must be "Yes" to Question No. 1 and "No" to Question No. 2 in order for damages to be awarded.
In-Depth: Timeline of events that night
The incident that led to the shooting began when Wagner and his partner, Officer Jeffrey Rodriguez, were on bike patrol in Downtown Austin investigating car burglaries on a "spotter operation."
Wagner testified last week that he and his partner went up Eighth Street looking to see if cars were burglarized -- not expecting to come across the men.
"We were there because that area is a high-crime area," said Wagner.
He said he was surprised to see them,
Wagner said Carter and Webb were walking together and looking around in all directions pretty quickly, making the officers suspicious.
Wagner said the then-16-year-old driver, Webb, eventually tried to run over his partner, so he opened fire -- killing Carter.
In-Depth: Monday's testimony highlights
Webb was the 16-year-old driver in the car with Carter when the shooting happened, but a medic's testimony Monday contradicted Webb's previous testimony about his version of events.
Austin medic Edwin Reyes treated Webb for his gunshot wound, a wound Webb reportedly told him came from a police officer's gun. However, Webb testified last week that he did not realize police were following Carter and him that night.
The defense in the federal proceeding used the testimony to show that Webb, now 18, did not call police or get himself to the hospital that night.
Donald Graves Jr. also took the stand Monday. He was in the neighborhood on the night Carter was killed by police gunfire, and he testified that Carter's friend banged on his car door after the shooting -- pleading for a ride.
Graves said he was parked near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 35 on May 30, 2011, when Webb approached him saying he had just been robbed.
Graves did not give Webb a ride, and police found the teenager later at Disch-Falk Field a few blocks away.
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