Community meeting over Carter shooting yields testy exchanges
As a Travis County grand jury continues to evaluate the actions of an Austin police officer involved in a May fatal shooting, some Austin residents expressed dismay to prosecutors and local activists over how the district attorney’s office has handled similar incidents.
About 100 people packed the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center in East Austin on Monday to discuss the shooting death of Byron Carter Jr. The 20-year-old was fatally shot by officer Nathan Wagner in May. The grand jury is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether Wagner will face criminal charges.
Some attendees — many of whom, like Carter, are African American — complained that officers are rarely indicted in fatal shootings in which minorities are often the victims. An officer last was indicted on charges related to a shooting in 2003, but he was later found not guilty. Several shootings have happened since then, but none has resulted in indictments.
“When you have so many shootings in this city, and we’re not getting the results we want, something has to change,” said Anthony Walker of the New Black Panther Party.
District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg expressed her sympathy to Carter’s family members, who were in attendance but criticized a handout that blamed her office for not holding police accountable by failing to indict them.
“I do not dictate to a grand jury what decision they are to make,” she said. “I am tired of being accused of not being fair when I am fair.”
Her opponent in the Democratic primary, former Judge Charlie Baird, attended the forum and chastised her office for taking 10 months to bring the case to a grand jury.
“There are two kinds of justice in Travis County — civilian justice for you and me, and justice for law enforcement,” Baird said to applause.
Baird said that if a grand jury fails to indict, the office should try again with a different grand jury. He said that Lehmberg’s predecessor took the Tom DeLay case before several grand juries before an indictment was returned.
“He has perverted that. He does not know what happened with Tom DeLay,” Lehmberg said. This led to a testy exchange during which Lehmberg pointed at Baird and said, “Why don’t you just hush.”
Attendee Andrew Jackson asked why so many of police shooting victims were unarmed. “I’m just asking a simple question, and it’s not being answered,” he said.
Police Chief Art Acevedo has said any possible disciplinary action would follow a grand jury decision. Acevedo has said Wagner’s actions appeared to be within state law and departmental policies.
Police said that, before the shooting, Carter and a 16-year-old companion walked along East Seventh Street. Officers Wagner and Jeffrey Rodriguez, who were looking for car burglars, followed them, saying they were acting suspiciously. Carter and his friend got into a car that raced toward the officers, police have said.
Wagner shot Carter four times, including once in the head. He shot the teen driver in the arm. The teen recovered. A grand jury did not indict the teen on any charge.