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Texas deputies confronted but didn't arrest fatal shooting suspect in August, a month before new law

2 months 1 week 6 days ago Thursday, December 07 2023 Dec 7, 2023 December 07, 2023 3:24 PM December 07, 2023 in News
Source: apnews.com
By: JIM VERTUNO and ACACIA CORONADO Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A man suspected of killing six people in a shooting rampage through two major Texas cities was confronted by sheriff's deputies in August during a mental health crisis and could have been arrested on a violation for cutting off an ankle monitor.

Instead, deputies left Shane James Jr. — who was naked and yelling obscenities at deputies while barricaded behind a bedroom door — with his family.

Had the encounter happened just a month later when a new state law made cutting off an ankle monitor a state jail felony, deputies could have pulled James out of the room and arrested him.

James, 34, is now charged with two counts of capital murder after authorities said he left a trail of violence from his parents' home in the San Antonio area to Austin on Tuesday. Authorities said James killed his parents, Phyllis and Shane James Sr., before driving about 80 miles (129 kilometers) to Austin, killing four more people, and wounding three others, including two Austin police officers.

Emmanuel Pop Ba, 32, and Sabrina Rahman, 24, were two of the people killed in the rampage, Austin police said.

Texas lawmakers approved a change in the ankle monitor law that could have put James in custody earlier this year. It was prompted by a fatal shooting at a Dallas hospital in October 2022 in which the shooter had a history of tampering with his ankle monitors.

James had been arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in January 2022 on allegations of attacking his parents and a sibling. The family later asked that he be released from jail. James cut off the ankle monitor the day after he was released in March 2022. At the time, cutting off an ankle monitor was just a parole violation.

Deputies were called to James' parents' house because of his erratic behavior in August of this year. The law, which made tampering with an ankle monitor a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in jail, would not take effect until Sept. 1.

In a briefing Wednesday, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar described the August encounter with James.

James barricaded himself in a bedroom and yelled racial epithets and other insults toward the deputies. At the time, the officers were limited in their use of forced entry on a misdemeanor warrant compared to a felony charge, Salazar said.

James' father forced the door partially open, but deputies left without taking the younger James into custody. They instructed the family to call them when he came out and they would arrest him, but they never received a call, the sheriff said.

"It is always possible that we could have done more," Salazar said. "While we wish that the opportunity had presented itself to put hands on him there is no doubt in my mind that the deputies would have, had they safely been able to put hands on him."

Salazar said that while cutting off the ankle monitor was not a criminal offense at the time, their processes have changed since the new law went into effect. Now, the agency is notified when a suspect cuts off their ankle monitor, and the appropriate felony charges are filed. "Back in March 2022, unfortunately, that statute did not exist," Salazar said.

Andy Kahan, the director of victims services for Crimes Stoppers of Houston, advocated for the law passed earlier this year. He said about a dozen states have similar measures and that James' interactions with police highlight their importance.

"He would have been taken into custody and more than likely six people would be alive today," Kahan said.

Kahan called for a task force to identify other people who've removed their ankle monitors. "The question for the state of Texas is how many others are wanted in a similar fashion," he said.

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Associated Press writer Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report.

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