AUSTIN (KXAN) — In an unexpected reversal of a previous decision to withhold evidence from the public, the Austin Police Department has released audio surrounding a teenage suspect’s suicide inside a patrol car.
“I’m guessing that meth made you lose a lot of weight,” Officer Iven Wall is heard telling Zachary Anam, 19, en route to booking after a shoplifting arrest on Jan. 8, 2017.
Anam asks what he’s talking about and Wall responds, “Your last jail picture shows you as a bigger kid in the face than that other [picture]. You don’t look this heavy anymore.”
“Yeah, I lose weight here and there,” Anam responds.
“That meth will do that to you,” Wall says, “and it’s not in a good way.”
“I know,” Anam responds.
“You need to start using your head man,” Wall says.
“I know,” Anam responds.
After saying Anam could face a felony charge, Wall tells him, “You’re going to be spending the rest of your life behind bars.”
Anam, sounding concerned, says, “I am?”
“If you keep this up,” Wall responds.
Later, Anam asks, “Officer, if I’m feeling suicidal, now’s the time to tell you, right?”
Wall tells Anam that when he gets to jail, they’ll take care of him. Anam worries he won’t make it in time.
“What do you mean,” Wall asks.
“I mean I want to kill myself,” Anam responds.
When Wall asks Anam if he has “the means to do so right now,” Anam says, “yes, sir” followed by “I have a loaded firearm to my head.”
Several minutes later, outside the stopped cruiser, Wall is heard in audio saying, “he’s been wiggling around a lot in the car and I was like, what the heck is going on?”
On Friday, APD released one hour and 12 minutes of audio to KXAN, starting with a converstation detailing how Anam wouldn’t identify himself to officers and ending with Anam saying, “I’m going to kill myself” while sirens blared in the background.
Anam – who had a series of recent arrests – was taken into custody by Officer Wall, at Barton Creek Square, a South Austin shopping mall. The teen was found with drugs and items taken from a Macy’s department store, according to a police report.
A disciplinary memo and internal affairs report both indicate Wall missed a handgun hidden in Anam’s waistband. During transport downtown, Anam stated he was suicidal, pulled out the gun and shot himself in the head in the back of Wall’s police cruiser. He died later at a hospital.
Fight for records
KXAN requested several items related to the incident, but police withheld video and audio from cameras inside the vehicle, dash camera footage from other vehicles and possible surveillance video during the patdown. APD cited a loophole in the state’s public information act giving law enforcement agencies discretion to withhold information in closed cases if a suspect has not gone through the court process — even in a cases when that suspect dies while in custody.
“Public information exists so that we can shine a light on government and what’s going on in government,” said Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who is using KXAN’s research into this legal issue while pushing a bill to close the loophole this legislative session. “This investigation has shown that we’re not allowing people… to shine the light, we’ve taken the batteries out of their flashlight.”
APD Chief Brian Manley had previously told KXAN his agency was withholding the graphic evidence out of respect for Anam’s family.
“Our philosophy is that we should put out all of the information that we can with a few caveats,” Manley said in late 2017. “And so if the legislature changes the law… it sounds like we’d be in a position where we’d have to release them, and we’re going to comply with the law.”
The City of Austin sought a ruling from the Texas Attorney General to uphold its decision to withhold information from KXAN. The state agency erred on the city’s side. But last month, the Anam family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, allowing the family’s attorney to gather those elements previously denied to KXAN — at which point APD agreed to release audio from the camera inside the police cruiser to KXAN.
“During the short drive to the jail, Wall mocked the despondent Zachary, telling Zachary he would ‘spend the rest of [his] life behind bars,’” the lawsuit states, referring to the audio between the officer and Anam, shortly before the teen said he was “suicidal” and placed the gun to his head.
“[Wall] stopped the squad car, and bailed out the driver’s door, leaving Zachary despondent, alone and armed in the car,” the lawsuit claims. “As a consequence, Zachary was left alone for several minutes in a suicidal state before he fired a single shot into his own head.”
APD has not commented on the lawsuit, but a city spokesperson said, “We are familiar with this tragic incident and stand ready to defend the City and its officers.”
Wall received a 20-day suspension after the incident. Anam family attorney Jeff Edwards said APD has a history of missing weapons on suspects and has called for more training and policy changes in the lawsuit.
“The Austin Police Department regularly searches people it arrests so incompetently that people arrive at the jail still carrying weapons,” Edwards said. “This is terribly dangerous for all law enforcement officers, the general public, and, as Zach’s death illustrates, the people APD detains.”
APD continues to deny KXAN access to some information in this case — including other video and audio files.
APD released one hour and 12 minutes of audio. Below is a transcribed excerpt. Warning: graphic content.
Man: Who we’ve got (inaudible)?
Woman: I don’t know. He doesn’t have an ID and he tried fighting out there so I took him to the ground. That’s what I came to tell you.
Woman: He has someone else’s ID in his wallet.
Man: I don’t see an ID.
Woman: It’s (inaudible).
Man: Oh, okay. Is that him?
Woman: That’s not him. He said he was (inaudible) to his friend.
Woman: Oh, he was shoplifting, too?
Man: He wants to play a little name and birthday game, but — he said he was 16, and then he said 17, then he said 19, now back to 16.
Man: He’s got a little carpet burn on his face from when they look him to the ground.
Man: What’s your name man?
Woman: But do you have a nickname or something?
Zachary Anam: No.
Man: Why’s your Facebook page got some other name? Anam, or something like that?
Man: Your name’s not Zach?
Man: Come on man. … I’m fixing to take you down there to the main police station and they’re going to fingerprint you and we’ll know who you are.
Man: And then I’m going to add some additional charges once I find out.
Man: Remember that incident that we got called out to in Travis Country when there was a robbery-drug deal gone bad? He was one of ’em.
Officer Iven Wall: I’m guessing that meth made you lose a lot of weight.
Anam: Why do you say that?
Wall: Because your last jail picture shows you as a bigger kid in the face than that other.
Wall: You don’t look this heavy anymore.
Wall: Do what?
Anam: I said, I mean, yeah, I lose weight here and there.
Wall: That meth’ll do that to you.
Anam: I know.
Wall: But it’s not in a good way.
Anam: I know.
Wall: And this 80-something dollars for your watches, or for the watch and and the earrings.
Wall: That’ll probably be a felony, too.
Wall: Yeah. Need to start using your head man.
Anam: I know.
Wall: You’re going to be spending the rest of your life behind bars.
Anam: I am?
Wall: If you keep this up.
Wall: I said if you are who I think you are.
Wall: This guy, you’ve already got about six charges waiting on you warrant-wise, plus two today…. three today.
Anam: My finger’s stuck (inaudible) stuck like this god d— it. Ouch, god d— it. My foot’s stuck.
Wall: Do you have anything else illegal on you?
Anam: No sir.
Wall: I’m going to check my backseat. It was clean this morning when I got in it.
Wall: If you’ve got anything shoved up your butt or anything you better come out with it because you’re going to be searched anyhow and you take it into the jail, it’s going to be a — another felony charge added to ya.
Anam: Alright sir. If I identify myself as that person right now can I skip the whole process of going to the police department?
Wall: I’m going to go ahead and take you over there and get you fingerprinted.
Wall: Is that who you are?
Anam: Yeah. Well, I mean like, I think so, I can’t read the name.
Wall: Zachary Khabir Anam.
Wall: I thought so.
Wall: Dude, you’re no good at being a criminal.
Wall: You’ve been arrested, what nine times in the last year?
Anam: No. Twice. But like one of them was to serve a bunch of warrants.
Wall: For all the other stuff.
Anam: And then my freaking roommate got — violated my sh*t and got me f**king on the run and stuff.
Anam: If I’m feeling suicidal, now’s the time to tell you right?
Wall: They’ll take care of you at the jail.
Anam: I hope so. I don’t know if I’ll make it.
Wall: What do you mean?
Anam: I mean I want to kill myself.
Wall: Do you have the means to do so right now?
Anam: Yes, sir.
Anam: I have a loaded firearm to my head. Officer do not do any –
Anam: Officer, I will shoot myself.
Anam: I will do it. I will do it.
Wall: He’s got a gun.
Anam: I’ll do it. I’ll do it.
Wall: He’s in the backseat.
Anam: I will do it.
Wall: Where’d he get that?
Wall: We searched him.
Anam: Get back. Get back.
Wall: We’re at 6th and Lavaca.
Wall: He just told me he was suicidal.
Wall: He’s been wiggling around a lot in the car and I was like, what the heck is going on?
Wall: Where did he get it?
Dispatch: 6th and Lavaca. 6th and Lavaca.
Wall: Sir, keep going, get out of the way.
(Sirens and dispatch)
Anam: I’m going to kill myself.