APD Officer Indicted for 2022 Killing of Tech Entrepreneur in South Austin

Raj Moonesinghe, killed by Austin police in 2022 (Courtesy of the Moonesinghe Family)

An Austin police officer has been indicted for the Nov. 2022 killing of 33-year-old tech entrepreneur Rajan Moonesinghe.

A Travis County grand jury led by District Attorney José Garza indicted officer Daniel Sanchez on Wednesday morning for one count of deadly conduct, a felony punishable by two to ten years in prison. Sanchez had worked for the department for two years at the time of Moonesinghe’s killing and has been on paid administrative leave since.

Sanchez was one of several APD officers called to the Bouldin neighborhood off South First around midnight on Nov. 15, 2022, after a neighbor reported a man standing on his front porch and pointing an assault rifle into the street. Ring doorbell video released by Moonesinghe’s family, and body camera video released by APD, show what happened when police arrived.

The Ring doorbell video caught the moments before officers arrived. Moonesinghe stands on his porch with a black AR-15 style rifle. He addresses someone he seems to believe is inside his home, saying, “You want this?” and fires two shots through his open door. After the second shot, police cruisers pass in the street with their lights off. Moonesinghe does not appear to see them. The second parks just past his house.

Sanchez’s body cam video shows him exit his car and rush across the street, diving onto the ground near a neighbor’s fence, with Moonesinghe visible roughly 50 to 70 feet away. After hitting the ground, Sanchez yells, “Drop the gun!” and instantaneously fires three shots, followed by two more. He and fellow officers Stephen Markert and Luis Brito wait 30 seconds and then advance to the porch, where Moonesignhe is crumpled on his side, shot in the chest, back, and legs. The officers search the house and find no one. They speak among themselves, acknowledging that Moonesinghe is doing poorly, and then handcuff the dying man.

After his death, Moonesinghe’s family described him as “the most caring, thoughtful, silly, loving, hardworking, and deeply admired person we’ve ever known.” They have not responded to the indictment as of this writing but likely will, as they spoke to the press multiple times in the wake of Moonesinghe’s death to advocate for changes at APD. Moonesinghe’s brother, Johann Moonesinghe, called the shooting “murder.”

“It is evident that the officer who shot Raj did this without identifying himself, without thinking, and before giving my brother a chance to explain who he was and why he was outside,” Johann said at the time. “Instead, he arrived without flashing lights or sirens, pulled out an assault rifle, took a hidden defensive position behind a fence 25 yards away, and killed my brother. He began firing before finishing his command to ‘drop your gun’ and continued to fire once Raj had dropped his gun and put his hands up.”

Social justice advocates have echoed Johann’s criticisms, but APD Interim Chief Robin Henderson released a statement after the indictment defending Sanchez’s decision to immediately shoot Moonesinghe. “APD officers are trained to respond to acts of violence and prevent injuries to innocent persons,” Henderson wrote. “As seen in the Critical Incident Briefing materials released by APD on December 1, 2022, Officer Sanchez was confronted with a subject who fired a rifle indiscriminately in a densely populated neighborhood. Officer Sanchez responded to that threat consistent with his training. APD will continue to support Officer Sanchez as this process moves forward.”

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.