Use of force justified after woman tried to run officers over, DA says

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin Police Department officer was justified in using force when he shot and killed a woman in February 2017, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office announced in a statement Thursday.

The decision means Officer Benjamin Rogers’ case will not be presented to a grand jury.

Morgan London Rankins, 30, died Feb. 22, 2017 in south Austin.

Police say an anonymous caller called 911 and said someone was trying to blow up her house in the 7900 block of Appomattox Drive. When officers arrived, they were nearly run over by a car reversing out of the driveway that then tried to run them over, according to the statement.

Rankins then led officers on a chase on Manchaca Road, and at one point police say she hit another vehicle. Police say Rankins had a knife with her and may have been trying to “bait officers into shooting her,” the statement said.

Officer Rogers was laying out stop sticks to try to puncture the tires of Rankins’ car when she allegedly swerved toward him, but missed and crashed into a pole on Keilbar Lane.

“Officer Rogers approached the crashed vehicle with his weapon drawn, and Ms. Rankins exited the car and moved toward him with a knife in her hand,” the statement said. “Ms. Rankins ignored Officer Roger’s commands to drop the knife and continued toward him. Officer Rogers later told investigators he believed Ms. Rankins had tried to kill him once, and his life was again in danger, and so he discharged his firearm.”

Rogers fired three times and hit Rankins twice, the report said.

At the time, Rankins’ pastor, who was speaking for her family, said she had a mental illness, but no history of violence. 

Thursday, Pastor Joseph Parker told KXAN he and Rankins’ family believe she was experiencing some sort of an episode at the time of the shooting.

“It’s painful, it’s hurtful,” Rankins said, adding that nearly a year and a half after the shooting, “The family’s question continues to be, ‘But why did he have to kill her?'”

In a transcript after the shooting, Officer Rogers was recorded saying that he’d already pulled his gun before ever seeing Rankins get out of the car with a knife.

Parker said he didn’t feel Officer Rogers should have done that, noting that APD officers are trained to only draw their guns with the intent to kill.

“As a member of the public, I expect him to be able to handle that with some level of professionalism,” Parker said, asking, “Where’s the Taser? Where are the other alternatives that you could use to take her down in a non-deadly way?”

Parker says because of the timing of when Officer Rogers chose to draw his weapon, he feels the District Attorney’s Office should have sent the case to a grand jury trial.

“Particularly in this atmosphere of police shootings and so forth,” Parker said. “Maybe some of these cases need to be tested at the courthouse.”

Raw video of the police chase

Officers run to avoid driver

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