AUSTIN, Texas – An off-duty police officer in Central Texas gave a teenage runaway a ride to Austin about 10 days before the youth was charged in the killing of a college student.
Georgetown police said Thursday that the officer broke no policies by helping 17-year-old Meechaiel Criner.
Criner remained in custody Friday facing a murder charge in the death of University of Texas student Haruka Weiser, 18, who was from Oregon. Her body was found April 5 near the alumni center.
Police say the officer, whose name wasn't released, stopped at a Georgetown-area store on March 23 where Criner — with blisters on his feet — had been hanging around for several hours. The officer, when off-duty, returned with his personal vehicle and drove Criner to a hospital near the University of Texas campus in Austin. Georgetown is about 30 miles north of Austin.
"He didn't engage any police resources, any taxpayer money," said Cory Tchida, Georgetown assistant police chief. "It's almost like the fact that he is a police officer is incidental. He was trying to be decent and help somebody out."
Tchida said the officer learned Criner's first name, but didn't ask for any identification or check his name against available criminal record or missing person databases. Tchida said he was under no obligation to do so because he wasn't responding to a complaint of possible criminal activity.
Criner was in the custody of Child Protective Services before being reported as a runaway on March 24.
Tchida said the officer is haunted by the case.
"To say he is upset about what happened is an understatement," Tchida said. "But you don't know what's going to happen two weeks down the road."
Attorney Ariel Payan said Criner's defense team is still in the early stages of its investigation and is having Criner undergo psychological evaluations to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.