Garza, who last year unseated incumbent DA Margaret Moore, made campaign promises of vigilant investigation into police interactions with their community.
On January 11, his office announced an indictment against Austin Police Department (APD) officer Lando Hall, alleging improper use of informational access.
Since then, two more indictments have been handed down for an incident that occurred prior to Garza assuming office. Back in 2019, two APD officers moved to apprehend two individuals involved in a narcotics exchange. One of the individuals was apprehended without any issues. The other, however, was not so easy to apprehend.
Physical use of force was applied by the officer and the subject was arrested. An internal investigation cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, but they are now being charged with felony assault charges by the new Travis County DA.
Not just a campaign promise, Garza is following through on his vow to ramp up police misconduct operations.
Garza announced on January 14 that more cases would be examined and presented before a grand jury, including the Mike Ramos and Javier Ambler incidents.
Ambler’s death occurred during the infamous Live PD episode that resulted in the TV show’s cancellation. Since then, the Williamson County District Attorney has indicted now-former Sheriff Robert Chody on evidence tampering charges. In March of 2019, Ambler initiated a car chase, at the conclusion of which he was tased by officers and died of heart failure.
Body camera footage shows Ambler refusing to allow himself to be handcuffed, which resulted in the officers’ use of tasers. Before he died, Ambler can be heard saying he had a congenital heart defect.
After an internal investigation, officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Ramos’ death occurred in April of last year. Officers were called to the south Austin apartment complex, having been told Ramos had a gun. The body camera footage shows Ramos, confronted with multiple APD units, emerge from his car, unarmed. Officers told Ramos to walk toward them, and after some minutes without following that directive, one officer shot Ramos with a less-than-lethal round.
Ramos fell backward into his car and then appears to begin driving away from the officers, at which point one officer fired three rounds from his rifle at Ramos in his vehicle. Ramos was struck and later died from his wounds upon making it to the hospital. The internal investigation of this incident is still ongoing.
The APD officers say they were afraid of Ramos using the car as a weapon.
The case will be presented to a grand jury by March 30, according to Garza.
Numerous other incidents, most of which internal investigations have cleared the notion of any wrongdoing by the officers involved, will be reopened by Garza and his office.
In the January 14 release, Garza stated, “Already this year, there have been two officer-involved shootings. In total, two people were injured, and Alexander Gonzales was killed. It is a tragedy for our community, and I would like to express my sympathies to the family of Mr. Gonzales, and to everyone who has been affected.”
“Our community has been clear that when law enforcement officers use deadly force, prosecutors must investigate the case quickly and with transparency, to ensure that no one is above the law,” he concluded.
The Austin Police Association (APA) rebuked Garza’s efforts, stating of the January 22 indictments, “This case was not forwarded to the DA’s office for review because it was clear that through the thorough review, the force used was objectively reasonable.”
“District Attorney Garza believes his sole role is to prosecute officers. Instead of going after violent criminals who continue to terrorize our city, he uses his time to maliciously prosecute these officers in an attempt to gain political favor from the activist community that he seeks to serve,” the APA continued.
Garza, a product of the progressive quasi-labor organization Workers Defense Project, rode into office during a period of heightened tension between the community, its elected officials, and its police department. That friction swelled last summer during the George Floyd protests and the city council’s eventual $150 million cut to its police department budget, some funds of which were redirected elsewhere.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.