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Texas Deputy Indicted on Murder Charge Following Fatal Shooting

A Bastrop County grand jury has indicted a sheriff's deputy on a murder charge four months after he fatally shot a woman on the porch of a home.

Daniel Willis, 29, had been with the sheriff's office for less than a year when he responded to a disturbance around 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 16 at the residence on Zimmerman Avenue near Cool Water Drive in Bastrop. There, he shot Yvette Smith, 41, under circumstances that are still unclear.

She died at a hospital.

Officials initially said that Smith came to the door with a gun and disregarded a deputy's command to come outside when Willis opened fire. But several hours later, the sheriff's office issued a statement saying it couldn't confirm that Smith had a gun, or any other type of weapon, when she was shot.

Family members and friends have told the American-Statesman that she wasn't armed.

"She didn't even have the chance to get out the door," Willie Thomas, the homeowner and Smith's boyfriend, said at the time.

Asked Tuesday if the sheriff's office determined if Smith was carrying a gun, Sissy Jones, a spokeswoman for the office, said she couldn't comment because the investigation is still open.

Willis had been on administrative leave, which is common after a law enforcement officer uses lethal force, but he was fired following the murder indictment Tuesday, according to a statement from the sheriff's office.

The fatal incident came under new scrutiny in March when the sheriff's office announced that a lieutenant and sergeant had been punished for modifying Willis' training records after the shooting.

Sheriff Terry Pickering has said that officials had noticed several weeks before the shooting that some training records of new deputies hadn't been signed properly and that Lt. Joey Dzienowski pulled Willis' records to be signed after Smith's death. Pickering said no changes should have been made due to the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

Pickering also said he didn't think there was any "ill-will" in changing the records, which Dzienowski, Sgt. David Repka and other supervisors modified "in an effort to make sure the records were completed accurate," according to a statement the sheriff's office issued.

In an interview with the Statesman about a week after Smith's death, Pickering called the shooting and the controversial Tasing of a high school student by another of his deputies "tragic" and "concerning," but he wouldn't say whether he thought their behavior was inappropriate.

Personnel records from when Willis worked at the Travis County sheriff's office were generally positive, but one evaluation from 2012 said he needed "more development in handling explosive situations." A 2010 evaluation called him "immature."

He remained in the Bastrop County Jail on Tuesday evening with bail set at $100,000.

Smith, the single mother of two sons who were 18 and 25 when she was shot, worked at the Austin State Hospital as a caretaker until she had knee surgery a few months before her death, according to family.

After the shooting, Anthony Bell, her eldest son, said he was angry that officials accused his mother of having a gun; family members said she was uncomfortable even holding one.

"If they had went to Hunters Crossing or Tahitian Village or a nicer subdivision, they wouldn't have been so hostile," Bell said then.

Copyright 2014 - Austin American-Statesman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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