Shortly after 4 a.m. Sunday, Austin police Sgt. Michael Olsen was summoned by a security guard at an East Austin nightclub who reported seeing a patron with a gun, according to investigators and the sergeant's lawyer.
Olsen began questioning 25-year-old Kevin Alexander Brown, authorities said, but the man fled, jumping a chain-link fence and running to a nearby apartment complex courtyard.
Minutes later, he was shot to death by Olsen, who has been suspended in the past for using excessive force, including when he was accused of slamming a man on the ground so hard that he lost consciousness.
Olsen, who was working an overtime shift to help reduce crime in and around the East 12th Street nightclub known by neighbors for rowdiness, told investigators immediately after Sunday's shooting that he fired when Brown reached toward his waistband as though he were retrieving a weapon, attorney Tom Stribling said.
Olsen "does feel that he was justified in taking action because of the fact that the subject would not comply with his orders, would not show his hands, and he continued to move as if drawing a weapon," Stribling said.
According to public records, Brown had a criminal record for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
The shooting, which involved a black suspect and a white officer, prompted renewed skepticism from some community leaders about how Austin police officers use force against minorities.
It came two days after the city announced that the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would investigate the use of force among officers and "whether APD is systemically violating the Constitution of the United States," the agency said in a letter to the city.
It also comes as Austin is searching for a new police chief.
A gun was found 20 to 25 feet from Brown's body, Stribling said.
He said that Olsen had not seen the weapon before he fired and that he was "fairly certain" Olsen had a Taser stun gun, which uses less-than-lethal force.
Austin police would not confirm many of those details late Sunday but said they are conducting an investigation and might release more information today.
Acting Police Chief Cathy Ellison said Olsen was one of four officers working the overtime assignment in response to a request from the neighborhood that they help curtail loud music, illegal parking and other offenses in and around Chester's Nightclub.
She confirmed that Olsen approached Brown, that they had "an encounter" — Ellison said she didn't know the specifics of the exchange — and that the man fled on foot. She said that Olsen pursued the man and that shots were fired a short time later.
Ellison said she didn't know what prompted Olsen to shoot. Olsen has been placed on restricted duty pending an investigation, she said.
Austin police are generally allowed to use deadly force if they think their life or the lives of others are in immediate danger.
Samuel Walker, an expert on police use of force and retired criminal justice professor from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said that "if a person is fleeing, he can't be threatening."
"If he's running away and pointing backwards with a gun, well, that would be different," Walker said.
The shooting was the fourth time since 2002 that a white officer has fatally shot a minority suspect. The others were Daniel Rocha in June 2005, Jesse Lee Owens in June 2003 and Sophia King in June 2002.
Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that he would try to withhold judgment about the shooting but that "it's disturbing."
"Once again, they are black, and it's in the black community," he said.
Brown's family gathered Sunday afternoon at his family's home in Northeast Austin but declined to comment.
Chris Johnson said he was standing in his driveway about 4:15 a.m. Sunday and had called police about noise coming from the nearby Chester's Nightclub.
He said that a few minutes later, he heard a series of shots and called 911.
"I said, 'Get here quick,' " said Johnson, a member of the Police Chief Peoples' Forum, which consults with the chief about community issues.
Moments later, Johnson said, a man ran over to him, screaming that police had killed the man's brother.
"It's so unfortunate," said Johnson, who did not know what led to the shooting. "It couldn't have come at a worse time. It's like Pandora's box opening up all over again."
Sherlyn Presley said she was in Chester's parking lot, about 10 feet from the man, when police approached him. She said the man "was just standing there."
She said the man broke away and began running, with four or five officers in pursuit.
The last time she saw him was when he jumped a fence between the rear of the club and the apartment complex. She said she heard police yelling "Down" and then several shots moments later.
Johnson said he heard four shots; Presley said she heard four or five.
John Parker, 27, said he was walking to his car at the apartment complex when he saw Brown jump a fence from behind Chester's and run towards him. Parker said two police were chasing Brown on foot and were trailing him by about 10 to 15 steps.
Parker said that Brown's pants kept falling down as he ran and that he tried to pull them up. He said Brown ran past him and he stepped out of the way.
Parker said Brown ran around a corner.
"The next thing I heard were the shots, boom boom," he said.
The Justice Department investigation announced Friday will include a review of how officers are trained, how incidents are documented and meetings with community leaders.
The Austin chapter of the NAACP and the Texas Civil Rights Project had filed a complaint with the Justice Department three years ago.
The complaint was triggered in part by an Austin American- Statesman series revealing that from 1998 to 2003, police were twice as likely to use force against blacks as against whites and 25 percent more likely to use force against Hispanics than against whites.
During that time, all but one of the 11 people who were killed by police officers were minorities.
Olsen, then a detective, was among the 10 officers who were responsible for 10 percent of the department's use of force reports during that time. Austin police union officials have said the number of use-of-force reports aren't necessarily an accurate representation of the number of incidents.
The groups added to their complaint in February 2005 after several officers and dispatchers exchanged computer messages that included "Burn, baby, burn" during a fire at the Midtown Live nightclub, which catered to black patrons.
The investigation — and this latest shooting — come as the city is working to hire a new police chief, who is expected to be named by the end of the month.
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