- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A judge has ruled that a former Austin police officer charged with fatally shooting an unarmed man during a 2013 bank robbery investigation should be considered in court a federal officer because of his assignment that day to an FBI-led task force.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel’s decision last month transferred former Austin police Detective Charles Kleinert’s case from state to federal court.

The Austin American-Statesman (https://atxne.ws/1cEPAB1 ) reports the ruling gives Kleinert, charged with manslaughter in the death of Larry Jackson Jr., potential legal advantages he didn’t enjoy in state court. Unlike state courts, federal courts may grant immunity to some police officers charged with crimes. Additionally, federal courts draw from larger jury pools - which in Austin means a greater possibility of conservative, police-friendly citizens hearing Kleinert’s case.

The move comes as a rash of graphic, videotaped encounters has focused public attention nationally on police use of lethal force.

Authorities have said Jackson tried to enter the locked doors of a bank while a robbery was under investigation. Security video shows Kleinert questioning Jackson briefly before 32-year-old Jackson tried to flee. Kleinert, who is white, shot and killed Jackson, who is black, after a struggle in which Kleinert said his gun accidentally fired.

Yeakel’s declaration that Kleinert was acting as a federal officer now allows Kleinert to pursue immunity from prosecution because of his status as a federal officer. The protection doesn’t shield all acts by federal law enforcement, but it does create a different, and what many consider a more forgiving, standard for their conduct than state law.

At a minimum, University of Texas law professor Susan Klein said, the immunity provision could grant Kleinert an extra protection most civilian defendants don’t receive - and an additional avenue to defend himself on a charge that could lead to a 20-year prison sentence.

“He now basically gets two opportunities to argue that he made a mistake when he used deadly force, as part of the defense of the federal defense immunity clause and as part of the defense for the criminal charges themselves (if the case goes to trial),” she said.

Kleinert’s attorneys wouldn’t comment on their legal strategy, but have outlined much of it in recent court filings. They haven’t yet formally applied for immunity, but the newspaper reports that they are expected to do so. It is not clear whether a judge would rule on that request, or allow a jury to decide on the issue of federal immunity.

“No matter if you are a cop or a civilian, you should be able to use whatever legal means necessary to bolster your case,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, who has attended court hearings in support of Kleinert.


Information from: Austin American-Statesman, https://www.statesman.com

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