An Austin police officer has been cleared in the fatal shooting of a man in Southwest Austin.
Police said the man shot to death was firing rounds at a police helicopter when a sniper shot back. February 7, 2015, the man identified as 27-year-old Sawyer Flache walked around his neighborhood firing a rifle.
“We have bullet proof vests, but a lot of our vests, actually all of them, once you get into a caliber of a rifle like he had, our vests don't stop rifle rounds,” said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday.
First Flache shot out street lights on Pax Drive and Raccoon Run, but once a police helicopter and officers arrived on scene, the bullets started flying in their direction.
“I did everything I could to make the aircraft difficult to see to the shooter on the ground. That includes turning all the aircraft lights out,” said Ryan Miller an Austin police pilot who was flying the Air1 helicopter that night.
As Air1 circled the area, trying to keep the suspect in sight, the aircraft was hit by more than 20 bullets. Another two dozen nicks could be seen on the rotors and side of the aircraft.
“Supporting officers on the ground is the most important thing that we do and this situation is a great example of why the aircraft is very important, because it took a lot of the risk off the officers on the ground from having to be up close and see what’s going on and be in the range of his gunfire,” Miller said.
When SWAT sniper Luke Serrato saw Flache reload and then point his weapon one more time at Air1, Serrato took his shot. Flache was pronounced dead on scene.
“Nobody ever wants to pull that trigger and I can guarantee you that officer Serrato did not want to pull the trigger that day, but he was placed in a situation where he had to,” Casaday said.
“I thanked him for looking out for me as well, because he took that shot to defend my life,” said Miller.
More than a year after the incident, a Travis County Grand Jury met for 17 hours and interviewed 12 witnesses. The jury ultimately decided not to indict officer Serrato.
After Flache was shot and killed police say they found several weapons inside his home. They also found Flache's two children aged 4 and 6 sleeping in the home.