Police officers in Texas are under scrutiny after a 19-year-old shoplifting suspect shot and killed himself Sunday while seated, handcuffed, in the backseat of a patrol car.
Zachary Khabir Anam, of Austin, Texas, shot himself with a Glock semiautomatic handgun he had tucked into the waistband of his pants. Austin police Chief Brian Manley said in a Tuesday briefing that internal investigators are looking into the adequacy of the pat down conducted on Anam before he was placed in the patrol car.
The officers involved, Officer Iven Wall and Officer John Ricker, have been placed on administrative leave.
Manley acknowledged the many questions regarding Anam’s ability to hold onto a gun even after being placed in custody. He indicated that the officers’ search of the teen is being scrutinized carefully.
“Although I have a preliminary belief based on where we’re at in the investigation at this time, we have not yet interviewed Officer Wall, and it would be inappropriate for me to put any information out at this time because I do not want to influence his statement,” Manley said.
“At the end of the day, we have a family that lost their son, a young son, while he was in our custody when he took his own life,” Manley said. “Regardless of the circumstances by which we came into contact with Mr. Anam on Sunday, again, a loss of life, especially a life so young, is tragic. Our hearts go out to his family.”
Scroll to the end of the story to see Manley's Tuesday media briefing
Anam's family on Tuesday issued its own statement to the Austin American-Statesman. In it, they described him as a "beautiful kid" who loved his family and friends and was equally loved by them. Anam, who graduated from Bowie High School in 2015, was a member of the varsity football and wrestling teams.
"We are devastated by the loss of our wonderful son and very grateful for the overwhelming outpouring from the many friends of Zac, who have expressed their love of him and of us," his parents said in the statement.
Manley explained that Anam was arrested Sunday at Barton Creek Square Mall on charges of shoplifting and possession of a controlled substance. He was handcuffed, with his hands behind his back, and placed in a patrol car, with his seat belt fastened around him.
Wall, a 10-year veteran of the police force, was driving Anam from the mall, located in southwest Austin, to police headquarters downtown when Anam began talking to the officer about suicide. The interim chief said that the entire conversation, as well as the shooting, was recorded.
“It’s all on video. Our cars record when our officers are transporting individuals that they have in their custody,” Manley said.
Manley said the video showed that Wall assured Anam that he would have access to mental health services at the jail.
“He made a comment, somewhat to the effect of he wasn’t sure if he could wait that long,” the chief said.
Wall asked Anam if he had the means on him to kill himself, at which time Anam leaned forward, pulled his arms around the right side of body and lay down in the backseat.
“Therefore, he was able to place his head in front of the muzzle of that weapon that he had,” Manley said.
The chief said Wall, who saw the Glock in Anam’s hand, put out word over the police radio that the suspect in his patrol car had a gun, at which time he exited the car and began establishing a tactical plan with his backup, Officer John Ricker, who had been following in a second patrol car. As they planned their next move, the department’s SWAT team responded to the area.
About five minutes after Anam pulled the gun from his waistband, he fired a single shot into his head, Manley said. Officers pulled him out of the patrol car and began giving him first aid until a medical crew arrived.
Anam died the following day at University Medical Center Brackenridge.
Manley said that Anam was initially taken into custody at the mall by loss prevention officers with the Macy’s department store. He said that it was unclear whether those officers searched Anam but pointed out that his officers are required to search a suspect for weapons and other contraband, even if officers from another agency have already done so.
He said a thorough search requires officers to check everywhere on a person’s body, from their hair to their feet.
Austin officers did search Anam when they took custody of him, finding a controlled substance at that time, Manley said. That substance was still being analyzed for identification at the time of Tuesday’s media briefing.
The chief said that Anam also had multiple felony and misdemeanor warrants for his arrest at the time he was suspected of shoplifting from Macy’s.
The gun he used to kill himself had been reported stolen last year in a vehicle burglary in the city, Manley said.