Cop cleared in shooting of gunman in downtown Austin rampage

Grand jury declined to indict police sergeant who shot and killed a gunman who opened fire on government buildings


By Philip Jankowski and Samantha Matsumoto
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — A Travis County grand jury declined Thursday to indict the Austin police sergeant who shot and killed a gunman who opened fire on three government buildings and wreaked havoc downtown in the early hours of Black Friday, the Travis County district attorney's office said.

Larry McQuilliams, 49, had fired more than 100 rounds at Austin police headquarters near Eighth Street and Interstate 35 when Sgt. Adam Johnson killed him with a single shot from his service handgun while holding the reins of a patrol horse.

Johnson is a sergeant with Austin police's mounted Sixth Street detail.

The shooting rampage occurred at about 2:30 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving with McQuilliams first opening fire on the Mexican Consulate and the federal courthouse on West Fifth Street before he drove to Austin police headquarters.

In documents released by the district attorney's office Thursday, Johnson and other mounted patrol officers told investigators they heard reports of a gunman in a white van over the police radio as they were clearing Sixth Street after bars had closed. They were preparing their horses for transport at the police headquarters' parking garage when they heard gunfire, the documents said.

The officers saw muzzle flashes coming from a white van and McQuilliams, clad in dark clothes, opening fire on the entrance of police headquarters with an assault rifle. The bullets shattered several windows and left the walls pockmarked, the district attorney's office said.

The officers then started moving toward McQuilliams, the documents said.

"Thoughts were going through my head of the people that were in the main," Johnson told investigators, adding that one of his best friends was usually inside the building at that time.

Johnson said he heard four barrages of gunfire, with about 30 rounds in each burst. In the third or fourth barrage, McQuilliams turned his gun on the mounted officers and fired, striking right above the officers' heads, Johnson told investigators.

When McQuilliams paused, the documents said, Johnson fired a single shot from more than 100 yards away and saw McQuilliams fall to the ground.

A video of the incident recorded by a patrol car's dashboard camera released by police Thursday does not show either McQuilliams or Johnson but still conveys the tension of the moment. Gunfire from an automatic weapon can be heard in one of the department's parking garages, followed by a silence before a shot is fired from Johnson's weapon. Several officers and other patrol cars can then be seen rushing toward police headquarters.

Johnson told investigators that he feared for the lives of his fellow officers and felt he needed to protect them.

"I knew what the threat was, and my decision to shoot at him was to eliminate that threat," Johnson said. "I knew he was going to kill somebody."

Police with tactical gear approached McQuilliams and determined that he was dead, the district attorney's office said. Police then called in a bomb squad after discovering possible explosives in the vehicle McQuilliams had been driving.

Austin police said in a statement the department was pleased with the grand jury's decision not to indict Johnson.

"We remain grateful to Sgt. Johnson and the other dedicated Austin Police Department professionals for their quick and decisive heroic life-saving actions," the statement said.

Following the shooting, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo characterized McQuilliams as a lone-wolf terrorist. Investigators concluded McQuilliams shared beliefs with a racist, anti-government, right-wing Christian movement known as the Phineas Priesthood.

Acevedo also noted that materials found inside McQuilliams' van showed that he may have had more targets he planned to attack.

Evidence found after the incident suggests McQuilliams had death on his mind. Before setting out that night, he laid out clothes on his bed at his South Austin apartment identifying them as his funeral clothes. McQuilliams also left a message written in marker on his chest that read, "Let me die."

McQuilliams' autopsy concluded that he had died from a bullet in the back, hitting his heart.

Copyright 2015 Austin American-Statesman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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