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‘I know how to use a gun’: Driver who shot dead protester in Austin claims self-defence

Garrett Foster was at the demonstration with his fiancee when he was killed by Daniel Perry, an active-duty sergeant with the US Army 

Manny Fernandez,David Montgomery
Saturday 01 August 2020 16:35 BST
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An attendee holds a candle at a vigil for Garrett Foster in downtown Austin, Texas. Foster, who was armed and participating in a Black Lives Matter protest, was shot and killed after a chaotic altercation with a motorist who allegedly drove into the crowd
An attendee holds a candle at a vigil for Garrett Foster in downtown Austin, Texas. Foster, who was armed and participating in a Black Lives Matter protest, was shot and killed after a chaotic altercation with a motorist who allegedly drove into the crowd (Getty)

The deadly confrontation between an armed motorist and an armed protester during a street demonstration in downtown Austin over the weekend began when the motorist made a turn towards a crowd of marchers and came to a stop.

The protester was Garrett Foster, a former aircraft mechanic for the US Air Force who wore a bandanna on his face and carried an AK-47-type rifle on a strap in front of him. The driver who fired the fatal shots has now been identified as Daniel Perry, an active-duty sergeant with the US Army and a driver for ride-hailing company Uber who had just dropped off a customer nearby.

Days after the shooting that stunned Austin, details of the encounter remain in dispute, with different points of view from the police, demonstrators and Mr Perry, who has not been charged with a crime.

Foster was at the demonstration with his fiancee, Whitney Mitchell, a quadruple amputee who uses a wheelchair. Foster was white, and Ms Mitchell is Black. The two of them had frequently attended protests against police brutality in Austin.

Demonstrators who witnessed the confrontation have said in interviews that Mr Perry was driving aggressively in the direction of the protesters and that Foster approached the vehicle with his rifle pointed downward. At that point, they said, Mr Perry pulled out a handgun and shot him.

But in a statement released late on Thursday evening, Mr Perry’s lawyer disputed that version of events.

Mr Perry did not know that a Black Lives Matter demonstration was taking place when he turned onto the street, said the lawyer, F Clinton Broden.

He said Foster approached the car and motioned with his rifle for Perry to lower the window, and Perry complied because he believed Foster was associated with law enforcement. As Perry realised that Foster was not a police officer, Foster raised the rifle towards him, Mr Broden said in the statement.

“It was only then that Sergeant Perry, who carried a handgun in his car for his own protection while driving strangers in the ride-share programme, fired on the person to protect his own life,” he said.

Mr Broden said the police had interviewed witnesses who were marching with Foster and who had confirmed that he had raised his rifle “in a direct threat to Sergeant Perry’s life”. Immediately after the shooting, he said, a person in the crowd began firing on Mr Perry’s car, so he “drove to safety and immediately called the police”.

Foster’s family said they were certain that he had not threatened the motorist.

“Everyone who was standing around said Garrett never raised his weapon,” his mother, Sheila Foster, said in an interview Friday. “That man took away one of the best people on this planet.”

A person who appeared to be Mr Perry had posted in the past on Twitter about using violence against protesters. The Twitter account has since been deleted.

In June, Donald Trump posted a warning to protesters the day before his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, writing on Twitter that any “protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!”

The person who appeared to be Mr Perry responded on Twitter: “Send them to Texas we will show them why we say don’t mess with Texas.” In another tweet in June, he wrote that shooting someone in their “centre of mass”, or chest area, was the best way to take the person down.

Mr Broden defended his client’s tweets, saying they were being taken out of context by protesters. “I think they’re being misused to serve an agenda,” Mr Broden said, adding that Perry supports First Amendment rights and has defended those rights as a member of the military.

Foster’s comments before the shooting are also being scrutinised. Earlier that evening at the demonstration, Foster was interviewed by an independent journalist on Periscope about why he brought his rifle, and he said that “all the people that hate us” were too afraid to “stop and actually do anything about it”.

One police official who criticised that comment on social media has since apologised. The official, Kenneth Casaday, the president of the Austin police officers union, wrote on Twitter that Foster “was looking for confrontation and he found it”, but he later apologised in another tweet “for my offensive choice of words”.

Austin’s police chief, Brian Manley, said that investigators were told that Foster was shot after he pointed his rifle at Perry. “During the initial investigation of this incident, it appears that Mr Foster may have pointed his weapon at the driver of this vehicle prior to being shot,” Mr Manley told reporters Sunday.

Mr Manley said that a person in the crowd who had also opened fire – the gunfire that Mr Perry had reported to the police – had done so after hearing the gunshots and seeing the car drive away.

Mr Perry called 911 after leaving the scene and told dispatchers that he had shot someone who had approached him and pointed a rifle at him. He was instructed to pull over. Both he and the person in the crowd who shot at the vehicle were interviewed by investigators and released. They both had state-issued handgun licenses.

Mr Broden said Mr Perry has “fully cooperated with the police following the shooting and he continues to do so”. Mr Perry, who is stationed at the Fort Hood Army base in Killeen, Texas, and served in Afghanistan, was driving for Uber as a way to make extra money, his lawyer said.

Foster’s mother said her son enlisted in the Air Force in the weeks after he graduated from high school in 2010 in the Dallas suburb of Plano, where he grew up. Months later, he and Ms Mitchell became engaged when they were both 19. In a matter of weeks, their lives changed – Ms Mitchell collapsed at her grandmother’s house. Her organs began to fail as an infection caused septic shock, a life-threatening condition, Sheila Foster said. All four of her limbs were amputated.

Foster spent two years in the Air Force but was discharged and began taking care of Ms Mitchell. The couple lived in a house in North Austin that they renovated to accommodate her wheelchair and her health needs.

“From the moment he got out, two years after he went in, he never left her side,” Sheila Foster said. “He brushed her teeth. He combed her hair. He did her makeup.”

During a telephone conversation she had with her son about a week before his death, his mother expressed concern that the couple could be exposing themselves to danger by participating the demonstrations, which she knew he had been attending with his rifle. She asked her son who would take care of Ms Mitchell if he were put in jail.

She said her son replied: “Mom, it’s not going to happen. I’m not stupid. I know how to use a gun. I’m not going to point my gun at anybody.”

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