In a case that could have national implications for law enforcement officers, a former Austin police detective pressed in federal appeals court yesterday to preserve a shield that is protecting him from prosecution on manslaughter charges in a controversial shooting, reports the Austin American-Statesman. The case focuses on whether Charles Kleinert, who retired from the Austin Police Department after the 2013 shooting, should continue receiving federal immunity in the death of Larry Jackson Jr. under a rarely cited constitutional provision. Critics contend that the potentially precedent-setting lower court decision weakens the ability of local authorities to hold police accountable.
In arguments before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Kleinert’s attorneys argued that because he was serving on an FBI-led task force at the time of the shooting, he isn’t subject to state prosecution. Prosecutors have questioned use of the provision to supersede state law. They argue that the manslaughter charge, for which Kleinert was indicted, should go forward. They have insisted that Kleinert’s primary role the day of the shooting was with the Austin Police Department, and that key facts in the case remain in dispute and should be settled in trial. Experts believe the Kleinert case was the first in which a local police officer has attempted to seek immunity by arguing that his participation in a task force protected him. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel appeared to expand the protection that was meant for officers from such agencies as the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. If Yeakel’s ruling stands, it could shield hundreds of local and state police officers on federal task forces if they are involved in a questionable shooting.