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Firing of Austin Officer Who Shot at Unarmed Man Upheld

An arbitrator has upheld the firing of an Austin police officer who shot at an unarmed man during a traffic stop last year.

In the decision signed on July 3, the arbitrator said that Officer Justin Boehm's use of deadly force against James Barton last year was not objectively reasonable.

That was Police Chief Art Acevedo's conclusion when he fired Boehm in September, saying then that the officer's conduct was not consistent with what the department expects.

Boehm shot at Barton on May 8, 2013, after Barton ran a red light at the intersection of East 12th Street and Airport Boulevard and then got out of his pickup truck when Boehm pulled him over.

Footage from the dashboard camera in Boehm's patrol car shows Barton walking toward Boehm and pulling a dark object from his pocket -- his wallet -- after the officer twice told him to "stay in the car." Boehm then shoots at Barton, missing, and starts yelling for him to stay in the car. After jumping at the gunshot, Barton drops his wallet and gets into his truck. He was unarmed.

Pointing his gun at Barton, Boehm next orders him to get back out of the truck and lie facedown on the ground, where he remains until more officers arrive, handcuffing Barton, then 55, and taking him away.

Boehm told police officials that Barton ignored his orders and made "furtive" movements as if reaching for a gun. He also said he was suspicious that Barton ran a red light with a police officer behind him, and then proceeded to get out of the truck.

Barton has said that he didn't mean to run the light, and that he got out of the vehicle because he was taught to do so in driver's ed, to show the officer that he wasn't dangerous.

He sued Boehm and the city, alleging that the officer's actions were irrational and that the Austin Police Department doesn't provide adequate training on how and when to use a gun. They settled the case in April, with the city agreeing to pay Barton $50,000.

Wayne Vincent, president of the Austin Police Association, said the union is disappointed in the ruling.

"It's concerning the police officers that there's very little room for error," he said.

Vincent last month blasted the department's disciplinary process, calling it "notoriously arbitrary, corrupt and dangerous." Vincent also asked City Manager Marc Ott to change how city employees are treated when they are the target of an investigation, and in a June 25 letter requested a meeting to discuss how officers are disciplined.

Ott has not responded, Vincent said.

Assistant Chief Raul Munguia said in a statement that the department respects the arbitrator's ruling.

"The department will continue to strive to make Austin one of the safest cities in the country," he said.

Copyright 2014 - Austin American-Statesman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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