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January 4, 2020

Fatal Stabbing after Homeless Man Eludes Police
Gives GOP Governor Fuel for Warring with Austin

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Governor Greg Abbott gained a fresh new weapon in a bitter feud with the Texas Capital City when a homeless man went berserk on Friday at a downtown coffee shop before leading police on a brief chase and stabbing two people at a nearby restaurant including one who died.

The psychotic episode ended when the suspect jumped off the roof at one of the buildings that are squeezed into a small commercial center that's anchored on the west by a Freebirds World Burrito where the killing took place near the corner of South Congress Avenue and Riverside Drive on the southern edge of the Colorado River.

The Texas Capitol is slightly more than one mile from the scene of the outburst that began about 8 a.m. when an alteration erupted at the Bennu coffee house where several customers confronted and attempted to restrain the suspect who apparently wasn't armed at that point.

But the suspect broke free as Austin police arrived and managed to elude them long enough to slip into the fast-food establishment and leave two victims there in his wake. A third person was injured in the initial encounter that triggered the bizarre and bloody chain of events. The suspected killer was taken to a local hospital with injuries that he apparently suffered in the rooftop fall that could have been an attempt at suicide or a dramatic escape.

The Republican governor revealed in a tweet that the suspect was homeless before the police here had released that piece of information to the public. Abbott can be expected now to use the stabbings as a way to spotlight a deluge of criticism that he's leveled in recent months at the city's lenient approach to dealing with the homeless with a policy that Mayor Steve Adler has supported unapologetically.

Adler is an unabashed Democrat like all of the elected officials in the most liberal urban area in the Lone Star State. But a war of words between Abbott and Adler on the management of a growing homeless population is the hottest current flashpoint in a power battle between Republican leaders at the state level and local governments that the ruling Texas party has sought to restrict substantially in recent years.

Abbott could be gambling politically if he seizes on the stabbings as evidence for his claims that the city has put the public safety and business here at significant risk with an ordinance that has made Austin a magnet for homeless people. Democrats could push back by contending that violence has escalated on Abbott's watch with an alarming number of mass shootings in Texas.

Abbott had stirred the tempest last fall when he ordered the Texas Department of Transportation to remove homeless encampments under the Interstate 35 overpass on downtown's eastern edge. That left state and local officials scrambling for alternative housing shelters outside crowded areas.

While Democrats have called on the governor to summon lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session on gun violence, Abbott could bring the Legislature back for the sole purpose of passing legislation that would undo the Austin homelessness policy.

 

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