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Brown chronicle-acevedo


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Brown chronicle-acevedo

  1. 1. Acevedo Fires OlsenAPD chief concludes that the Kevin Brown shooting warrants indefinite suspensionDecember 7, 2007Jordan Smith / The Austin ChronicleOn Nov. 28, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo handed Sgt. Michael Olsen an "indefinitesuspension" (the civil-service equivalent of termination) for the fatal June shooting of 25-year-old Kevin Brown. Following a disciplinary review board meeting at Austin PoliceDepart­ment headquarters last Wednesday, during which Olsen answered questionsabout his conduct for Acevedo and others in his chain-of-command, Acevedo issued a10-page memo describing the shooting as a consequence of Olsens "failure to followhis training and his failure to exercise common sense and good judgment." According toAcevedo, Olsen made a string of bad decisions in confronting Brown, ultimatelyculminating in an "avoidable" escalation to deadly force.Flanked by members of his executive team and Olsens chain-of-command officersoutside APD headquarters, Acevedo addressed a group of reporters. "Let me start bysaying, this day is a tragedy for the community," he began, "for Kevin Brown and hisfamily, for Sergeant Olsen and his family," and for APD. While weve "got to teach kids,our young people" that running from the police is never a good idea, Acevedo said, theonus was on Olsen to accurately assess and appropriately react to the situation as itunfolded on June 3. Olsens "tactics leading up to [the shooting] were problematic for usand played a role in this tragedy," he said. "I think everybody has lost a little bit thisafternoon."In his decision memo, Acevedo recounted the shooting and its context in considerabledetail. Kevin Brown died from two gunshot wounds to the back, fired by Olsen in theearly morning hours of June 3, in the courtyard of an Elm Ridge apartment complex onHarvey Street, near the now-defunct East 12th Street after-hours club, ChestersNightclub. Alerted to a possible concealed weapon by a club staffer, Acevedo noted,Olsen called for nearby backup (Officer William Norrell), but instead of waiting forNorrell to arrive, Olsen approached Brown and, sensing danger, decided to go "handson." Brown pulled away and ran off through the parking lot, slipped through a hole in thefence, and made his way onto the property of the neighboring apartment complex.Olsen and his partner, Officer Ivan Ramos, followed, but Olsen broke away from hispartner in an attempt to cut off Browns flight. Olsen emerged into the courtyard oppositeBrown, whom he said he saw fidgeting with the right side of his waistband, presumablygroping for a weapon.Olsen never saw Brown with a gun and never saw his hands, but he told APDinvestigators that he was "100 percent sure" that Brown was in fact armed and thatBrown had a look in his eyes "like hes just going to try to kill me." Olsen raised hisweapon and fired two shots; one caught Brown in the back and dropped him to thegrass, where he lay prone. Olsen said Brown was still fidgeting at his waistband and
  2. 2. that he still feared for his life; he shouted for Brown to show his hands again, then firedtwo more shots, nailing another round into Browns back.Brown died at the scene. No weapon was found on him, although police recovered a .22pistol less than 30 feet away.No JustificationUltimately, in Acevedos opinion, Olsens failure to use "common sense, good judgment,and proper police tactics" began almost immediately after he decided to check out thereport of a patron carrying a gun. That decision accelerated a chain of events thatculminated in the unjustifiable use of deadly force against a civilian. Olsen first erred,Acevedo noted, by failing to wait for backup. "This was an especially poor decisionsince there were only two officers [present] and several hundred potentially intoxicatedand unruly people outside the club that might turn on the officers if they tried to arrestMr. Brown," Acevedo wrote.Olsen was obligated to check out the citizen complaint, but Brown was simply standingin the parking lot talking with others and not doing anything that required Olsen to takeimmediate action. Although Olsen said he felt threatened and that he was sure Brownwas armed, Acevedo noted that Olsen did nothing to defend against a potential use offorce: He didnt employ any tactic to cover himself from possible gunfire and, byfocusing on Browns eyes instead of his hands, failed to properly assess the situation. "Itis unreasonable to think that an officer can use deadly force because of the look insomeones eyes," Acevedo wrote.Ultimately, reviewing the facts in a light most favorable to Olsens version of events,Acevedo concluded that it is "conceivable" that an "ordinary and prudent officer" mighthave "perceived a threat that justified" firing the first round of gunshots. However, hesaid, there is no justification for the "second volley" that Olsen fired after Brown wasalready on the ground. There were "insufficient facts" to suggest that Brown wasactually an "immediate threat" – in part, Olsens account that Brown continued to fidgetwith his waist while wounded in the grass was disputed by Officer Norrell, who arrived inthe courtyard shortly after Olsen fired the first round of shots; he told investigators thatboth of Browns arms were actually "underneath his body." ("It is also important to notethat Officer Norrell did not feel the need to shoot at Mr. Brown after he went to theground," Acevedo added.) Olsen justified firing the second round of shots by saying thathe was left in the open and vulnerable to an assault without any cover, but Acevedowasnt impressed: Olsen "fails to understand and acknowledge that even if there was nocover available to him, it was his poor decision making and unsafe police tactics that puthim in that position."During the lengthy disciplinary review hearing, Olsen told his superiors that hedreviewed the investigative file and believed that his decisions on the night of June 3were correct and said that he "wouldnt slow down, even after knowing that he shot acitizen who was not armed at the time that he pulled the trigger," Acevedo wrote. "Thesestatements are extremely troubling because it leads me to conclude that ... Olsen doesnot understand the errors he made, nor will he change his behavior in similar situations
  3. 3. in the future." (Acevedo noted that in reaching his decision to terminate Olsen, he alsoconsidered the officers disciplinary history, which includes a 60-day suspension for lyingin connection with a use-of-force incident on Sixth Street.)In sum, Acevedo concluded, "When an officer violates policy, and that policy violation(s)result in the death of a citizen, indefinite suspension is warranted. Consequently, Ibelieve it is in the best interests of the Department, the City of Austin, the citizens weare sworn to protect and serve, and Sergeant Olsen himself, that he be indefinitelysuspended."Appeal PendingAttorney Adam Loewy, who is representing Browns family in a federal civil-rights lawsuitagainst Olsen, applauded Acevedos decision, which he said confirms that familysassertion that excessive force was used that night that "could have been avoided."Olsens attorney, Jason Nassour, was reportedly not pleased with Acevedos decision.Although he did not return a call requesting comment, Nassour told the AustinAmerican-Statesman that the chief is a "coward" and made his decision not based onfacts but based on his desire to be "liked."Olsen will appeal Acevedos decision to the three-member Civil Service Commission,Nas­sour told the daily. Unlike an appeal to an independent arbitrator, whose decision isfinal and binding, an unfavorable ruling by the CSC can be appealed to district court.While a court appeal would offer Olsen the chance to present additional evidence insupport of his case, the judge is required to give deference to the CSC opinion and mayonly deviate from its judgment by finding that there is less than "substantial evidence" tosupport Olsens termination. (Since the arbitration option was added to state law in1987, very few Austin officers have chosen to appeal their disciplinary sentences to theCSC.)