Tovo: Urgent Need to Curb Gun Violence After Another Shootout in Downtown Austin

APD Chief Joe Chacon provides briefing after a gunfight on E. 6th Street left one dead.

District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo is calling for “reasonable gun regulations” after a shootout in the East 6 thStreet bar distrct last night resulted in the death of a 17-year-old Black male.

Tovo, who represents the area, said that the shootout also underscores the importance of an ongoing Austin Police Department violence intervention program, which aims to seize illegal firearms and arrest violent offenders.

Gunfire erupted between two groups of males at 1:17 am, October 9, near the intersection of Sabine Street and E. 6 thStreet. Police officers who were already nearby conducting a DWI investigation ran north along Sabine Street toward the gunfire.

One officer opened fire. A 17-year-old Black male was injured and later died in hospital; it is unclear at this point whether he was struck by the officer or by one of the other shooters.

This isn’t the first recent shooting on 6th Street. A similar incident in June involved an argument among teens that escalated to a shooting that killed one bystander and injured 14. That shooting occurred as bars were closing and crowds were emptying into the streets, near the same time of night as the shooting last night.

Kathie Tovo

Tovo wrote in a statement, “Last night, Sixth Street was again the site of gun violence. Although I do not yet have full information, I know that Austin Police Department officers responded immediately to prevent further escalation and to apprehend those responsible. My prayers are with all of those involved and their families.”

“The ‘gun battle’ that the Austin Police department said took place highlights the urgent need to curb gun violence in this city — to get illegal guns off the streets of Austin and out of the hands of youth so that disputes do not turn deadly.”

Tovo also pointed to the Safer 6th Street Initiative, which she sponsored, which involves plans to enhance street lighting in the area, curb underage drinking, and establish a dedicated EMS presence on weekends. She wrote, “Just this week, city staff released an update response to my Safer Sixth Street resolution; tonight’s incident underscores the importance of that ongoing work, as well as APD’s violence intervention program and the Office of Violence Prevention’s community-based prevention initiatives. I will continue to lead in this work and to ensure that the city manager allocates appropriate resources.”

“We need to use every available strategy to curb the escalating gun violence within our city — as well as to renew our urgent calls for reasonable gun regulations at the state and federal level.”

Similarly, APD Chief Joe Chacon said at a media briefing, “I think one of the really important messages right now is what I’ve been saying consistently about the gun violence in the city. Our violence intervention program is several months in and almost two months ago we started a special part of that just in the entertainment district really focusing on people that were bringing firearms, especially illegally owned firearms into our entertainment district.”

“We’re going to continue that project, we’ve recovered several firearms as part of that and have filed appropriate charges,” Chacon added. “This is why we’re doing it, it’s this type of activity, this type of conflict that is happening in which firearms are introduced and these conflicts are turning deadly.”

Talking Past Each Other

In her remarks, Tovo, a Democrat, echoed sentiments shared by many Democrats after such shootings, who tend to emphasize the need for more gun control. On the other hand, conservatives point to a lack of law enforcement, the release of felony offenders on PR bond, and a lack of prosecutions of drug crime, among other factors driving the violence. Recent teen-involved shootings have also prompted calls to restore Austin’s long-standing curfew for minors, which the council revoked in 2017.

“We need to use every available strategy to curb the escalating gun violence within our city.” — Tovo

Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak commented, “We disbanded the [APD] anti-gang unit 60 days ago due to the police staffing crisis created by Austin City Council’s catastrophic decision to defund the police,” adding that the Prop A initiative on November 2 would “ensure adequate staffing, increase community policing, double police training and enact police reforms.”

The Austin Police Association, which is also backing Prop A, commented, “About the same time as the shooting a separate stabbing occurred. Violent crime is rising.”

If the killing of the 17-year-old ends up being counted as a homicide, it will be Austin’s 68 thof the year, compared to 48 last year and 38 in 2019.

Arrests Made

According to Chacon, police officers pursued the shooters involved in the gun battle and managed to detain two of them and seize one handgun.

“Witnesses were located that advised that this appeared to be a dispute and ultimately a gun battle between two different groups of individuals and multiple weapons were observed. The two groups fired at each other which is why it’s unknown whether the officer struck someone or that individual was struck by somebody else’s gunfire,” he said.

The shooting was captured on the officer’s body-worn camera, and police are working on obtaining other sources of video, he said. Chacon said the officer-involved shooting will be investigated by the department’s special investigations unit with oversight from the Travis County district attorney’s office. Additionally, there will be an administrative investigation by APD internal affairs with oversight from the Office of Police Oversight.

The officer involved has been with the Austin Police Department for four years and will be placed on administrative duty, a routine response to an officer-involved shooting, Chacon said.

Originally published at https://www.honestaustin.com on October 9, 2021.

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Honest Austin

Original reporting on local Austin news, Texas politics, and the economy. honestaustin.com