May 21, 2024

For weeks after the neighbor across the street got into a shootout with Austin police, Glen and Mindy Shield had no front door — just a giant sheet of plywood securing their entryway, behind a charred door left on its side.

It wasn’t their troubled neighbor who blasted open the Shields’ front door with a strip of carefully placed explosives, though. It was a SWAT unit — officers sworn to protect and serve — who left an estimated $23,000 in damage, a broken natural gas line and a debris field of unanswered questions as they trampled through the wrong house in the Southeast Austin neighborhood of Parkside at Slaughter Creek.

“I keep thinking about what we could have done differently to prevent this nonsense,” Glen Shield told me this past week. Then he nodded toward the house of his neighbor, the man accused of shooting a police officer: “He didn’t get the bomb.”

The Aug. 6 shootout was all over the news, as both an officer and the suspect, a man named Dwayne Brzozowski, suffered nonfatal gunshot wounds in a welfare check gone horribly wrong. But the damage inflicted on the Shields was never mentioned in the official Austin Police Department narrative of that night.

Glen Shield looks at the boarded-up front door of his Southeast Austin home. Police exploded open the door on Aug. 6, after a shootout with a neighbor, even though Shield and his wife were handcuffed in police vehicles and said they told officers that the door was unlocked and that no one was in the home.

Glen Shield looks at the boarded-up front door of his Southeast Austin home. Police exploded open the door on Aug. 6, after a shootout with a neighbor, even though Shield and his wife were handcuffed in police vehicles and said they told officers that the door was unlocked and that no one was in the home.

The Police Department never told the public that a SWAT unit blew open the front door and searched the house across the street from the suspect’s home. Nor did the department mention that officers detained Glen and Mindy Shield — terrified residents quite literally caught in the crossfire — for nearly three hours that night, handcuffed in the back of patrol cars while the suspect hunkered down inside his own home.

Law enforcement never gave the couple an explanation. Nor did the Police Department answer my questions, citing the ongoing investigation into the officer-involved shooting.

But the city of Austin has already absolved itself of any financial responsibility.

“I realize the incident, all told, has resulted in property loss for your family and other alleged trauma,” city claims investigator Mike Hennessey wrote to Glen Shield in an Aug. 18 email. “However, Texas state law provides immunity from liability for property damage to local governments that engage in law enforcement and public safety functions, such as the Austin Police Department carried out in this case.”

Glen Shield shook his head, looking at the gouges in the walls that need to be fixed and the stained carpet that needs to be replaced. Outside, his porch and the leaves of his bur oak tree are speckled with a sticky black residue from the SWAT explosives that won’t come off.

Thankfully, his homeowner’s insurance is paying for repairs. But he still believes the police should be held accountable.

“I would be very shocked,” the computer specialist said, “if state law says police can blow up your front door for no reason.”

A doorbell camera shows a SWAT officer placing a strip of explosives along the front door of Glen and Mindy Shield's home on the night of Aug. 6. Austin police have not explained why officers blasted their way into the Shields' house when shooting suspect Dwayne Brzozowski was at his own home across the street.

A doorbell camera shows a SWAT officer placing a strip of explosives along the front door of Glen and Mindy Shield’s home on the night of Aug. 6. Austin police have not explained why officers blasted their way into the Shields’ house when shooting suspect Dwayne Brzozowski was at his own home across the street.

The ill-fated welfare check

The incident began with a different neighbor calling 911 on the evening of Aug. 6, seeking a welfare check on Brzozowski. The 56-year-old man was a recluse on Channel Island Drive with a stack of code enforcement citations for knee-high grass. Now four giant wasps’ nests worried the neighbor, who told 911 he hadn’t seen Brzozowski in months.

When Brzozowski didn’t answer the door around 9 p.m., an officer kicked it in and announced, “Austin police!” Then, police body camera footage shows, Brzozowski came out with a shotgun and exchanged gunfire with the officers, who ran in opposite directions.

Detective Daniel Jackson took cover across the street, in the Shields’ garage, which Glen had left open so he could haul his recycling bin to the curb.

Body camera footage shows that as Jackson edged out of the garage, looking for the suspect in the dark, the officer was hit by gunfire coming from the direction of Brzozowski’s house.

That’s where the body camera footage released to the public cuts out.

It’s also where the Shields’ ordeal begins.

Blood stains the garage floor of Glen and Mindy Shield's Southeast Austin home. After officers exchanged gunfire with a man across the street, police Detective Daniel Jackson took cover in the Shields’ garage.

Blood stains the garage floor of Glen and Mindy Shield’s Southeast Austin home. After officers exchanged gunfire with a man across the street, police Detective Daniel Jackson took cover in the Shields’ garage.

A dangerous misunderstanding unfolds

The couple was watching “Naked and Afraid” in their living room when they heard popping sounds they thought were fireworks. As Glen Shield got up to investigate, a bullet zinged through the dining room window and past his head, hitting a cabinet door.

Husband and wife both dialed 911 while Glen Shield retrieved his 12-gauge pump action shotgun from his gun safe. Over the years, he had seen drug deals at the nearby neighborhood park. He figured a criminal feud had erupted.

Mindy Shield cut the lights and locked the doors while her husband made his way to the front. He could hear someone in his garage. He opened the front door just a crack.

“I said, ‘I’ve got a shotgun, and don’t move; I’ve called the police,’” said Glen Shield. “And he was saying, ‘Don’t shoot, I’m not going anywhere, I’m not moving.’”

Glen Shield has replayed this moment in his head countless times. He couldn’t see the man around the corner in his garage. He doesn’t believe Jackson identified himself as police. The Police Department declined my request for additional body camera footage that would answer these and other questions, citing the ongoing investigation.

The couple said 911 operators said nothing about police already being on scene. Instead, they told the Shields to wait inside, which they did.

A SWAT unit left an estimated $23,000 in damage, including the front door they blasted away, and a debris field of unanswered questions after they stormed the wrong house.

A SWAT unit left an estimated $23,000 in damage, including the front door they blasted away, and a debris field of unanswered questions after they stormed the wrong house.

Soon the house was surrounded by officers who heard Jackson’s radio call for help. At 9:10 p.m. — just five minutes after Jackson was hit in the right arm and face with shotgun pellets — a doorbell camera video shows Glen Shield walking out of his front door with his hands up, following officers’ commands. He left his gun in the house. Mindy Shield came out moments later.

“I very clearly recall one of the officers saying, ‘I’m going to kill you if you don’t move faster,’ or something like that,” Glen Shield said. “And I was really scared at that point.”

He realized a dangerous misunderstanding was unfolding. The bullet that hit his dining room window came from the direction of Brzozowski’s house. He tried to point officers that way, but they didn’t seem to believe him.

“All the lights and all the police are looking at our house — almost all,” he recalled. “I remember looking over at (Brzozowski’s) house, and it’s dark.”

Fog of war should have lifted sooner

I can imagine the fog of war was thick in the moments after Jackson was shot. The injured officer was in the Shields’ garage, and the couple and Brzozowski both had addresses on Channel Island Drive. Officers pouring into the neighborhood were trying to figure things out.

Still, Jackson’s uninjured partner, Detective Christopher Van Buren, knew the incident began at Brzozowski’s house. Why did officers spend the next few hours focused on the Shields’ place across the street?

Glen Shield looks at the ruined front door that a SWAT team blew off his house.

Glen Shield looks at the ruined front door that a SWAT team blew off his house.

At 11 p.m., nearly two hours after police took Glen and Mindy Shield into custody, images from the couple’s doorbell camera show a SWAT officer installing a strip of explosives along the hinged side of the front door. The blast sent shards of wood all the way across the house.

The Shields said they told officers the door was unlocked and no one else was inside. They don’t understand why explosives were used. (Indeed, Jody Stiger, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer and national authority on police use of force, told me it’s best practice for SWAT to see if a door is already open, unless it’s a hostage situation or drug warrant search.)

An hour later, at 11:57 p.m., Brzozowski surrendered from his home “after a short standoff” with SWAT, then-Police Chief Joe Chacon told reporters. Glen and Mindy Shield told me they were released around that time.

Brzozowski was treated for a gunshot wound. He remains in custody on charges of aggravated assault on a public servant and deadly conduct. Police retrieved three shotguns from his home.

Pellets from a shotgun peppered the side of the home of Glen and Mindy Shield's home.

Pellets from a shotgun peppered the side of the home of Glen and Mindy Shield’s home.

Brzozowski’s lengthy record with Austin code enforcement — at least seven citations for overgrown grass in four years — suggested problems beyond lawn maintenance. Brzozowski sent a “disturbing” email in 2021 to a code officer, according to court documents, in which he “stated he was instructed by Special Forces of the U.S. Military not to cut the grass.”

Another time, court records said, “Mr. Brzozowski stated that he would not cut the grass because he feared for his life.”

Chief touts ‘peaceful resolution’

A few days after the SWAT unit went through the Shields’ house, a neighbor told them the smell of gas outside was really strong.

Glen Shield went into his attic and heard the sound of gas escaping from a fractured pipe. The straps that hold the air conditioning ducts in place were broken, suggesting officers had searched up there, too.

“We were lucky it was a windy day,” he said, “because that gas would have built up in there and we would have blown up.”

Based on conversations at the scene, Glen Shield believes the Department of Public Safety’s SWAT unit led the search of his house, even though the agency’s formal partnership with Austin police ended weeks earlier amid concerns over use of force.

While neither the Austin Police Department nor the DPS answered my questions, Chacon told reporters that night that the DPS “assisted greatly during this incident, providing a large number of troopers and other resources to help us to stabilize this scene to make sure that there was no ongoing danger to the public, to other neighbors, and ultimately bring it to a peaceful resolution.”

The Shields said they wish Jackson a speedy recovery. They’re grateful the injuries that night weren’t worse.

But it doesn’t feel like a “peaceful resolution” when stray bullets hit your house, an officer threatens to shoot you, a bomb demolishes your door, and the city shrugs, we’re not liable.

The Police Department told me that “when our agency is called out to a scene, the safety of our officers and community are our primary focus.”

Forgive Glen and Mindy Shield if they don’t feel that way.

Grumet is the Statesman’s Metro columnist. Her column, ATX in Context, contains her opinions. Share yours via email at bgrumet@statesman.com or via Twitter at @bgrumet. Find her previous work at statesman.com/news/columns.

Online video

See an interview with the Shields and some of the damage to their home with this story online.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Grumet: Austin Police destroyed the wrong house. City won’t pay for it

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