AUSTIN (KXAN) — The family of a man shot and killed by an Austin police officer last year are now calling on the department to recognize efforts in the future that avoid the use of deadly force.
The mother and brother of Rajan Moonesinghe held a news conference Tuesday morning outside Austin City Hall, where they pushed for the Austin Police Department and Chief Joseph Chacon to create a new award to give to officers. Mark Moonesinghe, Rajan’s oldest brother, said police should “establish a preservation of life medal that commends those that employ de-escalation tactics to preserve a life”
Mark said the foundation created by his family in memory of his brother would even fund such an effort. He also pointed the police departments in Philadelphia and Los Angeles already give out similar honors to their officers.
“De-escalation and preservation of life need to be rewarded on the same stage with officers who receive medals for valor, for Purple Hearts, for community service and the 20 employee awards handed out by APD,” Mark said. “In providing such recognition, the APD will reinforce their priority and commitment to de-escalation, and our hope is that it will translate to less loss of life through more conversations and simple questions.”
APD tells KXAN “We offer awards and medals of different types. While we do not have a specific medal awarded for “de-escalation tactics”, the Department does recognize officers in various ways to include de-escalations, including several awards and medals that may be conferred. These awards include the Meritorious Service Medal and Life Saving Medal, among others, as well as commendations within the unit.”
Moonesinghe, 33, was shot and killed by Austin police officers outside of his south Austin home Nov. 15, 2022.
Ring camera footage released by APD in December 2022 showed Moonesinghe outside his home pointing a rifle at something off-camera and saying, “Are you sure you want this?” The person who called 911 told dispatchers that Moonesinghe seemed to be scared of something inside his home. Moonesinghe fired into his home twice before police arrived.
Police arrived without sirens, the video showed, and one officer opened fire on Moonesinghe almost immediately after getting out of their patrol vehicle. The officer gave a command for Moonesinghe to put the gun down, but as the video showed, fired a split-second after he gave the command. The officer, later identified as Daniel Sanchez, hit Moonesinghe with gunfire and then Moonesinghe fell to the ground. Medics arrived at the scene nine minutes later and took Moonesinghe to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
APD also released body-worn camera footage of the incident. The full videos are available on APD’s Youtube page.
“While we understand the need for answers, criminal and administrative investigations require a thorough investigation, which may take an extended time to complete. These incidents are jointly investigated, the criminal by the Special Investigations Unit and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office—the administrative by Internal Affairs and the Office of Police Oversight. To maintain the integrity of the ongoing investigations, the Department has no further information to provide at this time,” APD said in a statement.
Sanchez remains on administrative leave, APD said Monday.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Moonesinghe’s mother, Ruth, said the officer involved should face consequences by the department. She also called on police to release her son’s property, including his cell phone, so that the family can access his photos and other memories saved on it.