Case Over Against Man
Shot by Police: Wounding by Officer Delayed
Dismissal of Robbery Charge, Lawyer
One year after Austin police shot
a man in the back at a robbery scene, Travis
County prosecutors on Monday dismissed the robbery
charge against him, prompting the man's criminal
defense lawyer and his mother to criticize the prosecutors for taking so
long to right a wrong.
the system failed Gregory Steen,'' said David
Frank, Steen' s criminal defense lawyer. ``If Gregory Steen had not
been shot and in such a sensationalized case, the
district attorney would have dismissed this case a
long time ago."
Buddy Meyer, trial
chief for the Travis County district attorney's
office, denied that the shooting of Steen, 32,
affected the outcome: ``That had no bearing on it
whatsoever.'' A second suspect pleaded guilty to
the robbery last week, and Meyer said Monday that
other witnesses at the scene said Steen had
nothing to do with the robbery.
was about midnight, Oct. 11, 1997, when more than
20 Austin police officers surrounded a North Austin,
Texas house, believing a robbery was in progress.
Several people were inside the house, and officers
said they were told shots had been fired. As a
group of officers stormed through the front door,
Officer Keith Sheffield, a six-year veteran,
watched the back of the house from a neighbor's
yard, some 60 feet away, during a heavy rainfall.
That's when Steen jumped out a back
window, crashing to the ground, police said. As
Steen stood up, Sheffield fired twice. A bullet
struck Steen in the kidney area, police said. High
on crack cocaine, Steen jumped two, 3-foot
chain-link fences before collapsing. Sheffield
said in pre-trial hearings that he thought Steen
had a weapon. None was ever found.
Police Chief Stan Knee disciplined Sheffield,
suspending him for one day for violating a policy
against firing a weapon at a fleeing person when
the individual poses no threat of death or serious
physical harm. The chief then waived the
suspension after Sheffield took additional
training on deciding when to fire his weapon.
Because Sheffield is white and
Steen is African American, the incident and
subsequent discipline prompted minority and civil
rights groups to call for the creation of a
citizens' board to review complaints against
police. Some also said Sheffield should have been
Meyer said it took a year to
resolve the robbery case because federal marshals
surprised local prosecutors by removing the second
suspect, Neeman Roberts, from Travis County jail
this spring. Before local prosecutors could get
Roberts back, he was in a federal prison in
Illinois on an unrelated case, Meyer said.
On Monday, Steen pleaded guilty in
a separate case to a reduced charge of resisting
arrest. He was sentenced to time already served in
jail. But he still faces a six-year prison term
for a probation violation on a drug charge.
Steen's defense lawyer said Steen's probation was revoked
several months ago for ``giving a dirty urine
sample'' and failing to report to a probation
Steen's mother, Carol King
of Austin, Texas always maintained that her son did not
commit the robbery and is not a violent person.
``I really, really feel that the six years is a
little harsh,'' she said Monday. Steen's lawyer
has filed a motion asking state District Judge Jon
Wisser to reduce the sentence.
Steen lost a kidney and part of his bowels in
the shooting. His mother pleaded for compassion.
``He's lost all these vital parts,''
she said. ``They are going to send him to prison,
and he's not going to be able to fight for
himself. That's the scary part."
King said she believes authorities pressed the
robbery charges for so long to distract attention
from the shooting and because Steen has threatened
to file a civil lawsuit against the Police
Department and Sheffield.
denied that allegation. Austin police had no
comment Monday night, and Sheffield could not be
``I think it's sad our
justice system has to go to such lengths to make
themselves look good,'' King said. ``But it will
work out. Justice will prevail.''
Copyright © 1998, The Austin
Laylan Copelin, Case over
against man shot by police: Wounding by officer
delayed dismissal of robbery charge, lawyer