Austin DA Garza creates confusion with announcement of impending indictments against multiple police officers

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The district attorney in Austin, Texas announced Thursday that he expects indictments in the coming days against police officers involved in quelling George Floyd riots in 2020, sparking confusion and a walkout from officers. Multiple sources told Fox News that 19 APD officers will be indicted. AP also reports 19 officers face indictment. 

In a Thursday press conference in which Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza, a Democrat, was expected to announce the indictment of those 19 police officers, Garza did not announce details or a total number of officers who are being indicted. Garza said that the grand jury process has been completed and that he “anticipates” numerous officers will be indicted in coming days.

(Travis County DA Website)

The indictments stem from violent protests near Austin Police Headquarters on May 30 and 31, 2020, during which APD officers fired bean bags and rubber bullets into the crowd causing severe injuries to multiple protesters. Legal representatives for the officers and members of the police union claim that those bean bag rounds were defective and that the department was aware of the issue. 

The Austin City Council approved on Thursday two settlement agreements with protesters who were injured in the protests, according to KXAN.

In a press conference following Garza’s remarks, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said he is “disappointed” by Garza’s announcement and added that he is not aware of any conduct by officers that rises to the level of criminal prosecution. 

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))

Fox News was told by sources that police officers in multiple units have staged a massive walkout this week in response to the indictments. Sources say 18 officers in the police department’s robbery unit walked off the job in protest along with the entire Organized Crime Division, which includes more than 30 officers who work in major crimes, narcotics, conspiracy, and anti-gang task forces.

“This is the new war on cops,” a source told Fox News of the coming indictments.

“This appears to be an outrageous effort to punish police officers for responding to protests which began as a social justice cause in light of the brutal murder of George Floyd, but did become violent and threatened public safety,” Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak told Fox News. “The district attorney needs to explain why he is indicting line officers for following orders and why no protesters who became violent with police have been charged.” 

Fox News asked Garza’s office to provide information regarding the number of cases his office was prosecuting of individuals who engaged in violence, committed vandalism, destroyed property, or committed other criminal acts in the county during the 2020 riots last week. At that time, his office responded that it could not provide such information.

“No, I can’t and as far as I know, we don’t track any of our cases that way,” Travis County DA Public Information Officer Ismael Martinez told Fox News. “You would need to create an open records request to get that information.”

Garza addressed this issue in his press conference Thursday, claiming his office has prosecuted 33 such cases. He provided no details on any of those cases during the press conference. 

Over a dozen officers were injured by protesters during the unrest on May 30 and 31 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. The unrest in Austin continued into late July 2020.

“Today in Austin, Texas we see another front in the war on police in this country,” Dennis Farris, President of the Austin Police Retired Officer’s Association and a 25-year APD veteran, told Fox News. “The socialist DA in Travis County indicted Austin police officers for doing their jobs during the riots in 2020. These officers were following policy and direction given to them when these bean bag rounds were fired. These indictments are strictly political in nature and this is what he ran on when he ran for district attorney. In issuing these indictments today he knows he will never get one conviction of any officer in these cases. All he has done today is ruined the lives and careers of police officers for his radical agenda.”

Austin Texas downtown cityscape skyline aerial view

Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, urged Garza’s office in a press conference earlier in the day to delay the indictments until after the upcoming local elections to avoid the growing perception that these indictments are political in nature.

“It’s an absolute disgrace, and it sickens me that DA Garza is using working officers as pawns in a political game of chess,” Casady said during the press conference.

Charley Wilkison, Executive Director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, added during the press conference that he has “never seen anything like” the charges the district attorney brought in his 28 years with CLEAT and 45 years in Texas politics.”

Sources have told Fox News that the police department will reassign the indicted officers to administrative and non-enforcement duties which represents a departure from the previous policy of placing indicted officers on unpaid leave.

Austin’s city council, led by Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar, both Democrats, slashed APD’s funding in August 2020 by about one-third of its budget. Officers responded by retiring and quitting in large numbers, and APD is now down by over 200 officers according to a recent study. Crime has risen swiftly across the city: 2021’s 89 homicides shattered Austin’s previous homicide record, continuing a trend that has worsened on Adler’s watch. 

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

Fox News’ Bryan Preston contributed to this report.

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