Austin, Texas – December 5, 2023
In a significant development, Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza, a Democrat known for his progressive stance on police accountability, announced on Monday the decision to drop indictments against 17 Austin police officers implicated in the tactics employed during the 2020 protests following George Floyd’s killing.
This marks a notable reversal of Garza’s initial pursuit of charges against more than 20 officers, making it the most extensive set of indictments against a single U.S. police department in the aftermath of the nationwide protests in 2020.
Garza, who assumed office months after the protests, had campaigned on promises to hold law enforcement accountable in Austin. However, he now intends to dismiss the majority of the cases, with plans to proceed with prosecuting four other officers. The district attorney did not provide a detailed explanation for the change in direction.
The felony charges stemmed from incidents during the protests, where some Austin police officers fired beanbag rounds into the crowd, resulting in critical injuries to a teenager. The decision to drop the indictments has sparked mixed reactions, with Austin Mayor Kirk Watson expressing hope for the community’s healing.
Watson, a Democrat who was not in office during the protests, remarked, “This has been a difficult chapter for Austin. I look forward to turning the page. These announcements will allow police officers, whose lives were upended by the indictments, to return to their services to our community.”
In his statement, Garza emphasized a continued commitment to holding law enforcement accountable for unlawful actions. He has requested the Justice Department to review the Austin Police Department’s use of force during crowd control at the protests.
Attorney Ken Ervin, representing nine officers affected by the dropped charges, criticized the indictments as a “combination of politics and incompetence.” He suggested that Garza may have taken the opportunity to educate himself on police tactics, leading to the change in approach.
Despite widespread allegations of heavy-handed police tactics during the 2020 protests across the U.S., few cities pursued charges. Garza’s decision to drop indictments in Austin aligns with a broader trend, where limited accountability has been observed for alleged police misconduct.
The City of Austin has already paid over $18 million to settle lawsuits filed by protesters injured during the 2020 events, including a student who suffered brain damage from a beanbag round. Eight pending lawsuits highlight the ongoing legal challenges faced by the city.
Austin Police Association President Michael Bullock asserted that prosecutors had not proven any case of officer wrongdoing. Bullock defended the officers, stating, “Our officers were faced with incredible and unprecedented challenges. In those extremely difficult times, they acted within the law and upheld their oath to keep our city safe.”
The dropped indictments have exacerbated tensions between the police and Garza, widening the existing rift. Garza’s office had recently faced a mistrial in a high-profile case involving an Austin police officer charged with the murder of Michael Ramos, an unarmed individual shot during an attempted arrest in April 2020.
Garza, part of a wave of progressive prosecutors elected in 2020, maintains that the charges in Austin were not politically motivated and underscores his office’s prosecution of over 30 non-officers who participated in the protests. This latest announcement comes in the wake of ongoing challenges to address issues of police accountability and misconduct in the aftermath of nationwide calls for justice sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others.