by BRAD ROLLINS
The family of a man killed nearly two years ago during a standoff with the joint city and county SWAT team filed suit in federal court last month against both local governments and the officers involved.
Leslie Eugene Whited was shot four times in the back Feb. 4, 2006, when officers said he tried to back over them in a stolen truck after being cornered on normally quiet residential Johnson Street at Dailey Street.
Texas Ranger Tommy Ratliff, who investigated the shooting because both San Marcos and Hays County officers were involved, presented evidence to a Hays County grand jury which did not find sufficient evidence to indict the officers.
But Whited’s sister, Melissa Krueger, and mother, Helen Harding, allege officers provoked Whited to give them cause to shoot him after a more than two hour long standoff. Krueger, a Round Rock resident, did not immediately return a phone call for comment today.
San Marcos police officer John Curnutt, Hays County Sheriffs Office Det. Mark Cumberland and Sgts. David Burns and Mike Davenport fired a total of 16 rounds at Whited or his truck when they thought he was attempting to back over them, according to statements included in Ratliff’s 77-page investigation report.
Earlier in the day, Whited had struck a Suburban on Interstate 35 in Kyle driven by Barbara Bass of Burnet. Driving a Ford pickup stolen in January from a Buda dealership, Whited attempted to flee the scene as Bass followed him through San Marcos while on the phone with law enforcement, the report states. At one point, Whited pointed a gun at Bass, she told investigators according to her witness statement.
He was pulled over at Dailey and Johnson streets at 10:21 a.m. by San Marcos police officer Danny Arredondo. When Whited refused to exit the truck, SWAT team members were called in and attempted to convince him to surrender.
After more than two hours of negotiations failed, officers said they decided to use tear gas to end the standoff and shot out his truck mirrors before repositioning a large SWAT vehicle in front of Whited’s truck to prevent him fleeing again. Whited first attempted to ram the SWAT vehicle before putting the truck in reverse and lurching backwards toward a police officers, the report states.
“At this time, I believed the officers and I were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. I took aim of the silhouette of the head in the driver’s seat … I fired until I saw him fall out of view,” Curnutt wrote in his witness statement.
Curnutt fired seven rounds, Davenport fired four rounds, Cumberland fired three rounds and Burns fired two rounds, the report states.
Whited was struck four times, according to an autopsy by Travis County Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo. He also had toxic levels of methamphetamine in his blood, according to a toxicology report. A search of the truck found no firearm.
After the grand jury declined to indict the officers in May 2006, Police Chief Howard E. Williams told the San Marcos daily, “…They basically did everything by the book and, unfortunately, it just ended the way it did. …They couldn’t let him run them over and they couldn’t turn him loose to get back on the streets of San Marcos and endanger the public.”
Krueger, in an interview about the same time, said officers’ justification for escalating the conflict “doesn’t give any of us comfort or assurance that the police acted properly or that [police officials] care if they did.”
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