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City officials in Texas went to cut a man’s overgrown lawn. He was later killed in a standoff with police.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/29/2021 Jonathan Edwards
Austin city firefighters put out a blaze at a two-story house in southwest part of the city on Wednesday, October 27, 2021. Police said the man who lived there barricaded himself inside for several hours and shot at officers multiple times before police killed him. (Austin Fire Department) © Austin Fire Department/Austin Fire Department Austin city firefighters put out a blaze at a two-story house in southwest part of the city on Wednesday, October 27, 2021. Police said the man who lived there barricaded himself inside for several hours and shot at officers multiple times before police killed him. (Austin Fire Department)

The contractors working for the Austin Code Department had been mowing the lawn of a home in an upscale neighborhood for an hour on Wednesday when bullets suddenly began flying from inside the house.

What had begun as a routine enforcement of a local ordinance quickly devolved into a five-hour standoff, police said.

By the end of the day, the resident was dead and his house engulfed in flames.

This wasn’t the first trip city officials had made to deal with the unkempt yard on Pinkney Lane. It was an “ongoing issue” and officials had tried to fix it several times before, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said during a Wednesday evening news conference. But the problem persisted, which led them to get the warrant “to make sure there wasn’t any further safety consideration for that house, for other houses, and go ahead and mow the grass,” the chief said.

The incident began just after 9:15 a.m., when Austin police officers accompanied the city’s code enforcement officials to a two-story house in a neighborhood in the southwestern part of the city. The homeowner’s grass was overgrown and the officers were there to serve a warrant that authorized workers to tame the lawn without the owner’s permission.

Everything was going smoothly until the one-hour mark when someone inside the house shot at officers, Chacon said. Unscathed, those officers retreated, got other city workers to safety and called for backup. A SWAT team arrived about 20 minutes later — along with mental health professionals and a crisis negotiator.

The standoff had begun. For several hours, police tried to coax the man out of his house but failed to do so, Chacon said.

Around 3:20 p.m., the man fired several more shots at officers who were behind his house, Chacon said. Police responded by sending a robot inside, and its cameras showed a fire was quickly spreading throughout the house.

Then, more gunshots.

For the next 20 minutes, police kept trying to convince the man to come out, even as the blaze inside was growing, Chacon said. Thinking the flames and smoke had killed the man, police had city firefighters advance to extinguish the blaze.

But their hunch was wrong. At 3:39 p.m., the garage door opened and the man stepped out “with weapons in hand,” Chacon said. A SWAT officer, who has been with the Austin Police Department for eight years, shot the man. He collapsed to the ground. After disarming him, officers tried to save him, but he later died at a hospital.

Police wouldn’t identify the man, describing him only as being in his 50s and saying they would release his name once they’d notified his next of kin.

The Austin Code Department received two complaints regarding the property in 2020 and handled three separate cases about it this year, city officials told KEYE-TV. In April, one of those cases went before an administrative judge, who fined the owner when he didn’t appear at the hearing.

In March, the city cut grass and weeds on the property without a problem.

On Aug. 12, officials notified the owner that he’d violated city code by letting grass and weeds on his property grow more than a foot tall and ordered him to cut them within a week.

“Failure to correct this condition by the above deadline may result in city action to clean the property at your expense,” the notice states. “Should another violation occur within one year of the date of this notice, the city may take action to clean the property without further notice to you and at your expense.”

Thursday’s fatal standoff prompted a nearby elementary school to go on lockdown “out of an abundance of caution,” Chacon said. Officials ended the lockdown after police took down the man, checked to make sure no one was inside the house and determined there was no longer a threat.

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