City's Police Motive for Man's Arrest
Questioned: Suspect in Robbery Trial Seeks Files About
A criminal defense lawyer Thursday
accused Austin police of arresting his client for
aggravated robbery to avoid legal liability for shooting
the unarmed defendant in the back as he fled the scene.
State District Judge Jon Wisser postponed
a ruling on legal motions to make several officers,
including Police Chief Stan Knee, testify and disclose
personnel files -- including an internal affairs
investigation of the shooting.
judge questioned the relevance of the shooting to the
``How is that connected
to whether your client committed a robbery in a house
before officers even got there?'' asked the judge in
Thursday' s pre-trial hearing. ``I understand you and
your client are aggrieved with his gunshot. But I'm not
sure this is the right forum."
Steen, 32, is charged with trying to rob several people
at a North Austin house in October. Steen denied the
charges, saying he was there to get high on crack
cocaine. Responding to a 911 call, officers were told a
robbery was in progress. After surrounding the house,
the officers went through the front door.
According to police records, Steen jumped out a back
window, and Officer Keith Sheffield fired two shots. It
was after midnight, dark and raining heavily. Sheffield
was standing 60 feet away in a neighbor's yard,
according to records. Steen was hit once in the back but
was able to run away. He was arrested a couple of hours
later after officers found him lying in a yard two
houses away. No gun was found on Steen.
Knee suspended Sheffield for one day, then waived
the suspension after Sheffield completed training on
when to shoot and when not to shoot. The police have
declined to release details of the shooting
investigation to the Austin American-Statesman, although
a grand jury declined to indict the officer. Typically,
investigative files are public after a case is closed.
The police are arguing that the shooting case remains
open until Steen is prosecuted for the robbery.
While Sheffield's discipline has prompted
the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union to call for
a civilian board to review complaints against the
police, Steen's lawyer, David Frank, said the police
arrested his client for robbery on what he calls thin
evidence in an attempt to avoid liability for shooting
Prosecutors deny that.
Thursday's hearing centered on whether the police
have to release Sheffield's personnel files, including
medical records and the shooting investigation. David
Douglas, a city attorney, argued that state law exempts
the chief, two investigators, a police psychologist and
the director of human resources from releasing the
Frank contended that
Sheffield, a six-year veteran, suffered a head injury in
a high-speed car chase before the shooting. He
questioned whether Sheffield's injuries affected his
abilities and memory of the October shooting and
Even if the judge deems the
information relevant to the robbery trial, Douglas said
admitting it as evidence would only mislead a jury. If
the judge deems any information confidential, Frank
asked the judge to review it in his chambers to
determine whether it's relevant to Steen's defense.
Copyright © 1998, The Austin
Copelin, City's police motive for
man's arrest questioned: Suspect in robbery trial seeks
files about shooting., 06-19-1998.