A progressive district attorney in Austin, Texas dropped indictments against 17 police officers involved in quelling Black Lives Matter riots in 2020 in a move Austin cops past and present tell Fox News Digital was a political smear from the beginning by a top prosecutor determined to demonize police regardless of the effect on the lives of law enforcement.
Travis County District Attorney José Garza announced Monday his office dismissed 17 indictments against police officers after a grand jury indicted 19 of them in February 2022 on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after non-lethal rounds were fired into the crowd.
“Our community is safer when our community trusts enforcement. When it believes law enforcement follows that law and protects the people who live here,” Garza said at the time. “There cannot be trust if there is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law.”
The indictments were filed despite the officers being exonerated of wrongdoing by the Austin Police Department and critics of Garza, who is backed by liberal mega donor George Soros, pointed to his campaign promises to prosecute police officers and progressive ideology accusing him of launching a “war on cops.”
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“This has nothing to do with justice, has nothing do with any wrongdoing,” Austin Police officer Justin Berry, one of the indicted officers who had his charges dropped last week, told Fox News Digital in 2022. “This is simply about politics and a political agenda that has taken place with these radical liberal district attorneys.”
Dennis Farris, president of the Austin Police Retired Officers Association, told Fox News Digital it’s “stupid to think that those officers went out there with the idea that they were going to hurt people.”
“That wasn’t the intention. The intention was to protect the police station and protect themselves from the rocks, bottles, frozen water bottles, bottles containing bodily fluids that were thrown at them, some bottles contained bleach — hell they even had a guy that was trying to light a molotov cocktail.”
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The city has paid out more than $18 million to resolve civil lawsuits related to protests and eight civil suits remain pending, FOX Austin reported.
Law enforcement members past and present that spoke with Fox News Digital said that Garza’s decision to prosecute these officers caused “irreparable damage” to their lives.
“What Garza did to those officers is a travesty,” a current Austin police officer who wished to remain anonymous told Fox News Digital. “Most will never understand the psychological, physical, financial, and other impacts going through such an unjust nightmare entails. They will never be the same. More broadly, it had a huge negative impact on police morale, played a role in the exodus of officers from APD, and consequently made our city much less safe.”
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“The sooner Garza goes, the better. It’s time to get back to real public safety in Austin.”
Berry released a statement after the charges were dropped against him saying that Garza prosecuted him “not on facts” but “on unfiltered emotion to support his personal agenda.”
“His pursuit for political power led to mine and 20 other officers civil rights being violated, our freedom and constitutional rights infringed upon, and reputations tarnished.”
“Jose Garza has known for a long time now that none of us violated any law, yet carried on with his personal punishment,” Berry continued. “As it was told to me in the early days of this, ‘the process will be the punishment.’”
In total, over 20 Austin police officers were indicted by Garza’s office and four officers remain charged by Garza’s office.
Austin-area attorney Doug O’Connell, who represented 9 of the officers who had charges dropped, told Fox News Digital that prosecuting police officers is Garza’s “highest priority” and that the evidence never supported the charges.
“We recognized early on that the evidence didn’t support an indictment or a conviction on the substance,” O’Connell said.
“The dismissal of 17 out of 21 underscores and backs up what we’ve been seeing from the beginning, which was these were political indictments,” O’Connell’s colleague, attorney Ken Irvin, told Fox News Digital. “We don’t think they had really any interest in seeing them through.”
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In total, over 20 Austin police officers were indicted by Garza’s office and four officers remain charged, including clients of O’Connell and Irvin.
Despite dropping the charges, Garza’s office asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into the officers actions and the “pattern-or-practice” of the Austin Police Department.
“No parent should fear that if their child chooses to voice their First Amendment right to assemble peacefully, they will walk away with serious bodily injury caused by the very person called upon to protect them,” Garza said.
“We expect the Department of Justice will take our request seriously, and we look forward to working with Mayor Watson, interim APD Chief Robin Henderson, and City Council to ensure full cooperation with the DOJ investigation. We will also continue to hold law enforcement who break the law accountable.”
Irvin told Fox News Digital the letter to the DOJ was simply an attempt by Garza to “save face.”
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“They needed some sort of reason why they’re getting rid of most of the cases and that’s it so they said, well, we think it’s a systemic problem, It’s in the Austin police department and so we’re going to address the Austin Police Department as a whole,” Irvin said. ” But that could have been done four years ago or three years ago, two years ago, one year ago. That’s why it’s a bogus reason.”
“I think that the political play was, dismiss 17 now and then down the road, come up with another reason why they’re dismissing more than that. They’re going to be very difficult to prove and get convictions on [them] because of what the officers were doing. You know, using less than lethal munitions on rioters, more than half the department was doing that for three days.”
Farris concurred and told Fox News Digital that Garza “has to be very much embarrassed.”
“Anytime they want to say hey we’re doing something, they turn it over to the feds,” Farris said.
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“Even though it’s a good day and these 17 officers have been cleared, it doesn’t make them whole,” Farris said. “It’s been almost two years of them living under this black cloud of indictment. The thought that they were going to be convicted and possibly sent to jail for life for doing their job. It doesn’t make these officers whole. They will never be whole. They were basically used as political pawns by the DA.“
Regarding the investigation and charging decisions against the police officers, Garza’s office told Fox News Digital in a statement that “The process for these cases unfolded as it does in every criminal case in Travis County.”
“It was evident throughout the two-year investigation into the Austin Police Department that there is a pressing need for systemic reform to prevent this from happening again in our community. The most effective way to achieve systemic change within the Austin Police Department is through an investigation conducted by the Department of Justice,” the DA’s office said.