A 26-year-old Austin man, distraught over a breakup with his girlfriend and seemingly intent to commit "suicide by cop," died early Saturday of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot after leading officers on a 45-minute chase, according to Police Chief Art Acevedo.
The man, whom police did not identify, repeatedly waved handguns at officers and refused their exhortations to surrender, Acevedo said. But when he trained a gun at two men in a pickup in what seemed to be an effort to take over their vehicle, a police corporal fired a single shot at him.
"The suspect immediately dropped," and he then appeared to shoot himself in the head, Acevedo said.
The police chief was quick to praise officers, and Cpl. Javier Bustos in particular, at a time when the Police Department has been under intense scrutiny over its use of force. "In my opinion, when you exercise that much restraint, at peril to yourself at times, that's heroic," Acevedo said.
Fallout from the May 2009 shooting of Nathaniel Sanders II by an Austin officer continues to linger with the department.
The City Council rejected a $750,000 tentative settlement with Sanders' family in July, after which the family sued the city for doing so.
Meanwhile, the family's civil rights lawsuit against the former officer involved, Leonardo Quintana, is pending in federal court. Officials say Quintana shot Sanders after they struggled for a gun in the parking lot of an East Austin apartment complex.
Acevedo said the suspect in Saturday's incident became suicidal four weeks ago when his girlfriend broke up with him.
"His actions throughout his contact with the Austin Police Department were consistent with an individual that was attempting to force officers to shoot him, which is commonly referred to as suicide by cop," he said.
Assistant Police Chief David Carter said Bustos, an 11-year veteran of the department "in good standing," shot the man in the left shoulder.
Carter, who is the department's chief of staff, said officials with the Travis County medical examiner's office would determine the cause of death.
"We are pretty confident that after that first shot was taken by the officer, more likely than not it's going to turn out that the suspect then committed suicide, ended his life, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head," Acevedo said.
According to police chief, the incident began as a confrontation between the man and his former girlfriend. The woman had been at a friend's house watching a movie when the man arrived in the ex-girlfriend's BMW. He told the woman that he wanted her to see him die, the chief said. Police have not given the location of that house.
She got into the BMW at his invitation, and they drove to her home on Bantom Woods Bend, which is off FM 969 near Decker Lane in far East Austin, Acevedo said. He got a handgun and started taking random shots inside the house. Then he shot her cell phone after she dialed 911 shortly after midnight, the chief said.
Officers arriving at the home ordered the man to drop his weapon when he walked out of the house, the chief said, but he went back inside, opened the garage door and fled in the BMW.
Officers gave chase but quickly lost him and returned to the house, Acevedo said. A few minutes later, the man returned.
"This is a man who is trying to engage the police, not get away from the police," the chief said.
The man drove around in tight circles and then fled again. Officers began a 45-minute pursuit in which the suspect at times drove faster than 130 mph, Acevedo said.
The incident ended about 1:45 a.m. on Ben White Boulevard just east of Riverside Drive and west of U.S. 183 after the man turned into a driveway for retail shops and started to head west in the eastbound lanes on Ben White.
"Again the officers exercised outstanding judgment," Acevedo said. "They didn't get caught up in the moment. They did not choose to pursue on the wrong side of the freeway, which would not have been the smartest thing to do."
The suspect's progress was immediately halted by an eastbound Ford pickup, although the two vehicles did not collide. He got out of the BMW and aimed one of two .45-caliber handguns he was carrying at the two men in the truck, Carter said. That's when Bustos, who was behind the man, fired.
Ben White Boulevard — a major thoroughfare to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport — was closed in both directions from Riverside to U.S. 183 for at least six hours, starting at 2 a.m., police said.
The corporal was placed on administrative leave with pay, underwent blood tests and will see the department's psychologist — all standard in such cases, Acevedo said.
The police chief said that officers captured the incident on video and that patrol cars responding to the call all had their cameras operating.
He said the incident underscores the importance of getting help for someone with mental health problems.
"I talk to my folks about that all the time," Acevedo said. "Get help. It's OK to ask for help."
Click to view image: 'Man became suicidal weeks ago when his girlfriend '
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