Jose Garza ran in Austin for District Attorney on the promise to hold Texas’ capital city police accountable. His first year was a rapid one. He charged at least seven officers, including one with murder twice.
The indictments of Thursday’s 19 officers on felony chargesover the tactics used during 2020 racial justice protests have made it clear that no case has reached the police department.
“Nineteen is, whew,” stated Margaret Moore, Garza’s predecessor as Travis County district attorney.
The indictments widened a rift in the booming city between Austin Police and Garza. Garza is a Democrat whose 2020 campaign was backed liberal allies like U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders who promised to crackdown on misconduct by law enforcement.
All of the officers newly charged had been placed on administrative leaves by Friday night, according to Saul Gray, a spokesperson for the department.
Garza stated that the indictments weren’t politically motivated and that “our community feels safer when we trust law enforcement.” Community activists have long criticised the city’s handling of protests, . This included officers firing beanbag rounds at the crowd . Garza claimed the indictments are overdue and he deserves credit.
Even Friday’s allies were disappointed by the inability to provide details. Garza stated that he cannot release them yet. Garza stated that grand jury indictments are expected during a Thursday news conference, but did not give any details. The names of the officers and the reasons for their indictment were not released publicly until 24 hours later.
Texas law requires that indictments remain secret until officers are arrested. Experts in criminal justice expressed doubts about the possibility of multiple indictments in a single case, and whether this would lead to convictions.
Officer Justin Berry is a Republican candidate for the state House seat. He said Saturday in a statement that he was one of those being charged. Garza was criticized for trying to influence voters through what he called a witch hunt.
Berry stated that the case was “outrageous”. Berry stated that Berry demonizes police and doesn’t value keeping people safe. He also harms our communities.
Berry stated that an internal investigation by the police into the incident cleared all officers, and that they will be acquitted.
Mayor Steve Adler stated that there was pressure on the city for a change in police culture and that Garza is supported by him. He said that he would like to see as many details as possible about the indictments.
He said, “It’s a large number and it’s important for the public to learn about what caused that,”
Garza’s office refused Friday’s interview request and stated that it was still not able to release specifics.
According to several people familiar with the indictments, the charges include aggravated attack with a deadly weapon. Because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the case, they spoke under the condition of anonymity.
If a public servant is accused of aggravating assault, he or she could face a life sentence in prison.
Police Chief Joseph Chacon expressed dismay at the charges. Ken Casaday, head of the police union, attacked Garza, saying that he was trying to “fulfill a campaign promise” and indict officers. Garza dismissed the criticism and said that 33 people were also being prosecuted by his office for their involvement in the 2020 protests.
Moore, who was a one-term incumbent candidate, was defeated by Garza in a win Garza credited to anger at the Texas justice system. He was the leader of the Workers Defense Project labor group and had never held public office before.
Garza was one of a few progressive prosecutors who were elected to office in that year, after the police killings and subsequent arrests of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others sparked national outrage over how law enforcement treated Black people.
Chris Harris, Austin Justice Coalition policy director, stated that there has been “literally no accountability” for officers who injured many people during the protest. “This was something that had to happen. We are glad Jose Garza was here to do something.
This is the largest number of U.S. officers indicted over the use of tactics during 2020 protests. Two Dallas officers are facing charges for aggravated assault using a deadly weapon, official oppression and harassment while a New York officer was charged with assault after pushing a woman to her knees. However, despite widespread allegations of police brutality and even illegal tactics, very few cities have brought charges.
Joe Brown, a former U.S. Attorney, also served two decades as a Republican District Attorney in North Texas. He said that convicting police officers is always difficult, and that Texas juries tend not to give them the benefit of doubt.
Brown stated that this was “really unprecedented,” according to his knowledge. It is truly remarkable to claim that so many police officers were acting in a chaotic, unpredictable environment, and believed that they were following policy and their training, was criminal intent.
Chacon said that his command staff prepared officers for facing hundreds of people, but that thousands showed up at protests that he described as “riotous and violent.”
David Crump, a former prosecutor and professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said that it’s rare to see more officers indicted together.
Crump stressed the need to see the evidence, but he also made a comparison between the Austin and charges against Baltimore police officers in the 2015 death Freddie Gray. Six officers were charged by a newly elected Maryland prosecutor who was under intense public pressure. She was convicted of zero after three trials.
Crump stated, “It just seems like an iffy type of indictment that could be either way.”