Austin crime watchdog calls on DA Garza to step aside in case against 19 indicted officers

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The Greater Austin Crime Commission is calling on Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza to step aside and recuse himself from involvement in the indictment of 19 Austin Police Department officers for their role in quelling a riot following the death of George Floyd in May 2020.

“There are legitimate questions about what evidence was presented to the grand jury,” the commission said in a statement Tuesday. “To ensure public confidence in the process, the district attorney should step aside and ask the court to appoint a special prosecutor for these cases.”

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 18: District Attorney Jose Garza in Austin, TX on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

AUSTIN, TX – NOVEMBER 18: District Attorney Jose Garza in Austin, TX on Thursday, November 18, 2021.
((Photo by Spencer Selvidge for The Washington Post via Getty Images))

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Garza, who campaigned on a promise to prosecute police, indicted the 19 police officers last week and charged them each with first degree felony charges that carry prison sentences of 5 to 99 years in prison.

The statement went on to point out that the officers were cleared of wrongdoing by the Austin Police Department in 2020 and outlined several concerns with Garza’s handling of the case including prejudicial past statements, withholding evidence from the grand jury, and dysfunction within the district attorney’s office. Garza has also been accused of withholding exculpatory evidence from the grand jury in another high-profile Austin case related to the 2020 riots, according to KXAN.

(Travis County DA Website)

Garza’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News.

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Over a dozen officers were injured by protesters during the unrest on May 30 and 31 of 2020 including several officers who were struck by bottles, rocks, jars of paint, and frozen water bottles that were hurled at them by the unruly mob. Some protesters were also injured by beanbag rounds the officers used, per department policy at the time, to restore order. 

The Austin City Council approved last week two settlement agreements with protesters who were seriously injured during the clash between officers and protesters, according to KXAN.

Legal representation for the officers and local police unions have claimed that those beanbag rounds were defective.

Austin, Texas

“The department issued these officers old and deteriorated beanbag rounds,” attorney Doug O’Connell told Fox News. “So rather than coming out as a soft beanbag they came out as a hardened projectile…so you had rioters who were seriously injured by these beanbags and it shouldn’t have happened but it’s not the officers’ fault it’s management’s fault.”

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“It’s probably a very righteous personal injury case,” O’Connell added. “But it doesn’t make the officers’ actions illegal or a criminal offense.”

Justin Berry, a Republican candidate for the Texas House of Representatives and one of the officers charged by Garza, told Fox News this week he believes the case is politically motivated.

“This has nothing to do with justice, has nothing do with any wrongdoing,” Berry said. “This is simply about politics and a political agenda that has taken place with these radical liberal district attorneys.” 

“We were responding to a riot,” Berry added. “People throwing Molotov cocktails at us, frozen water bottles, bottles filled with urine, bottles full of gasoline, and they were engaging in criminal activity by obstructing the passage road that goes to the main hospital.”

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