Wrongful death lawsuit regarding teen’s suicide inside police car can proceed; appeals court says City of Austin not immune

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last week, Austin’s 3rd Court of Appeals ruled that legal action can be taken against the City of Austin after a wrongful death lawsuit was filed stemming back to the 2017 incident where 19-year-old Zachary Anam shot and killed himself in the back of an Austin Police Department cruiser.

During that incident, Anam had been arrested on a shoplifting charge at a Macy’s in southwest Austin. According to the police report, Officer Iven Wall found a “crystal-like substance” he believed to be methamphetamine inside a folded-up dollar bill while placing the teen in custody.

Wall reportedly did not find the pistol that was hidden under Anam’s waistband, that the teen reportedly used to shoot himself after a conversation with Wall en route to the police station.

Audio of that conversation was released by APD in February 2019, Wall can be heard telling Anam, “You’re going to be spending the rest of your life behind bars.”

Anam can also be heard telling Wall he was feeling suicidal — which Anam acted on some time later, shooting himself while Wall was not inside the vehicle.

The Anam family’s lawsuit says that Austin police missed finding weapons 54 times between 2013 and 2017, based on weapons found by Travis County jailers after suspects were brought in for booking by APD.

“APD’s policymakers, including Chief [Brian] Manley (and his predecessors), were aware of this disturbing pattern, practice, and custom, but took no measures to ensure detainees were immediately searched reasonably to disarm them,” the suit reads, adding that the agency failed to implement “new, different, or additional” training to aid in weapon searches.

“The Austin Police Department regularly searches people it arrests so incompetently that people arrive at the jail still carrying weapons,” said Jeff Edwards, the family’s attorney. “This is terribly dangerous for all law enforcement officers, the general public, and, as Zach’s death illustrates, the people APD detains.”

The appeals court last week denied the City of Austin’s argument that it was immune from legal action in the case, which will allow the lawsuit to proceed for a trial in March.

KXAN’s Josh Hinkle contributed to this report.

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