Official data is skimpy, but according to a project launched by London-based news outlet The Guardian, some 950 people have been killed at the hands of police in the U.S. since the start of the year – 95 of those deaths in Texas. The project, known as The Counted, also notes that not a single officer has been convicted of any misconduct whatsoever.
How this might happen was brought into sharp focus last week in the manslaughter trial of Charles Kleinert, a former Austin police officer and contract security officer for the government. Kleinert was accused of shooting 32 year-old Larry Jackson, Jr. when Jackson, who was unarmed, visited the bank that had been on lockdown after a robbery there earlier in the day.
State charges against the officer were dismissed due to a little known 1889 case which, in the eyes of critics, permits Kleinert and others in similar situations to get away with murder – or, in this case, manslaughter.
University of Texas at Austin law professor Susan R. Klein is the Alice McKean Young Regents Chair in Law.
“Modern times have left the statute behind,” Klein says. The original statute, enacted before Prohibition, was meant to keep state courts from prosecuting federal officers working in an official capacity that might be at odds with local laws.
“There were many instances where the federal government and the state governments were not on the same page,” Klein says. “The statute was passed so federal officers could do their work without being hauled into state court and put on criminal charges for merely doing their federal job.”
Klein says examples like prohibition officers and IRS agents arrested in states friendly to bootleggers and unsupportive of income tax show why this law may have once had a purpose.
“What this doesn’t work for are state and federal and local task force matters,” Klein says. “Those didn’t exist when at the time the law was enacted and now they exist everywhere.”
Klein says the law “doesn’t make any sense” for this time period and she thinks the judge in the case “interpreted it wrong.”
“I think the ruling was wrong,” Klein says. “I think we do need to change the law because it has served its purpose – it’s past its purpose.”
Hear the full interview in the audio player above.