Fired Austin police officer files appeal to keep his job

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin Police Department officer who was fired this week for shooting and killing an unarmed teenager is officially appealing to get his job back.

On Thursday, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) filed a formal appeal regarding the indefinite suspension of Austin Police Officer Geoffrey Freeman, 41.

“His performance that day was well within his training and the law,” said CLEAT general counsel Michael Rickman. “I think [APD] rushed to judgement. They rushed the investigation.”

Police say Freeman shot and killed Joseph, who was unarmed and naked on Feb. 8 in North Austin. Freeman was originally called to an apartment complex in the 300 block of East Yager Lane for a report of a man chasing another man around the complex. When Freeman arrived, he spoke to the witness but was not able to immediately locate the suspect, until a short time later on Natures Bend.

In a verbal statement given by Freeman at the scene, when he encountered Joseph he gave him several commands to stop, but Joseph continued to “charge” towards him. The Austin Police Department’s Chief of Staff Brian Manley said it was then that Freeman fired the shots at Joseph, which occurred out of frame from the officer’s dash camera.

According to Freeman’s disciplinary memo, Freeman “chose to confront Mr. Joseph alone” and he “chose to utilize deadly force… even though he knew other officers had yet to arrive but were imminently in route.” Since Freeman was concerned the subject was possibly “losing it or high or something,” the memo indicates he should have waited for back-up since the subject was displaying symptoms of “Substance Induced Excited Delirium.”

Rickman said APD made their decision based on the court of public opinion rather than state and federal law.

“I think [Freeman] will be put back to work and we will be asking for all his back pay and all his benefits,” said Rickman.

On Monday, Chief Art Acevedo said he fired Freeman because his choice to use deadly force was not needed and not “justified in this case.” He goes on to say Freeman’s actions were not “consistent with the standards and training of APD.”

The Civil Service process

Having represented more than 100 officers, Travis Williamson specializes in Civil Service Law. Though unrelated with the case, he said Freeman’s situation is a good example of why the process is in place.

“It is exactly for cases like these where there might be significant public and private pressure,” he said.

CLEAT has criticized Chief Art Acevedo for caving to such pressure at the cost of due diligence when he made his decision to fire Freeman. But an outside arbitrator will be asked to rule if the firing was justified by examining the policies, the investigation into the shooting and whether the punishment fit the alleged violations.

Victory in civil service appeals is much higher than criminal court appeals according to Williamson.

“Officers win termination cases all the time in the state of Texas. They also lose them.”

The process is also much more public and transparent which could potentially impact the possible criminal case against Freeman.

“The arbitrator has much more discretion to allow evidence in,” said Williamson. “Whatever video there is will be part of the civil service hearing.”

At Monday’s news conference to announce Freeman’s indefinite suspension, Acevedo said dashcam video of the incident would not be released to protect the criminal investigation. But that evidence and other information kept confidential in criminal or Internal Affairs investigations could potentially become public record in a civil service hearing that is televised on the city of Austin public access channel.

Williamson said that sometimes can lead to attorney interest in having the criminal process take place before the civil service proceeding or vice versa.

“In the cases I have been involved in, they have gone both ways.”

Freeman’s attorneys said Thursday they hope to work quickly to hold the arbitration. The Travis County District Attorney’s Office said the next grand jury term is expected to begin in April and they hope to present Freeman’s case. Grand jury terms typically last three months, but could be extended.

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