Travis County, Texas DA Drops Most Charges Against Austin Officers during 2020 George Floyd protests, Seeks Federal Review

Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza announced a significant change in the prosecution of Austin police officers accused of using excessive force during the 2020 protests following George Floyd’s death. Garza, who was elected after these protests on a platform of police accountability, stated that his office would dismiss indictments against 17 officers but would continue prosecuting four others.

This development marks a considerable shift in approach for Garza, a Democrat, who had overseen the indictment of more than 20 officers, the highest number from a single U.S. police department in the wake of the 2020 nationwide protests. The protests had been sparked by concerns over racial injustice and police brutality, with some Austin officers using beanbag rounds on the crowd, critically injuring a teenager.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, also a Democrat, expressed hope for moving past this challenging period. He noted that the decision would allow the indicted officers to resume their duties.

Garza’s decision comes without a detailed explanation, though none of the indicted officers had gone to trial since their indictment in February 2022. The move also follows Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s suggestion of possible pardons for the officers.

In his statement, Garza reaffirmed his commitment to holding law-breaking law enforcement accountable and revealed his request for the Justice Department to review the Austin Police Department’s crowd control tactics during the protests.

Ken Ervin, representing nine officers whose charges will be dismissed, criticized the initial indictments, attributing them to a mix of politics and misunderstanding of police tactics.

Nationally, few cities have pursued charges against police officers for actions during the 2020 protests, with some cases in Dallas and New York leading to charges but often limited consequences.

The City of Austin has settled lawsuits totaling over $18 million with protesters injured during the 2020 protests, including a significant payout to a college student who suffered brain damage. Eight other lawsuits remain pending.

Austin Police Association President Michael Bullock defended the officers, stating they acted lawfully under challenging circumstances.

The dropped charges exacerbate the existing tension between the Austin police and Garza, whose 2020 campaign was supported by prominent liberals and focused on addressing law enforcement misconduct.

Garza’s tenure has been marked by a focus on police conduct, as seen in his prosecution of more than 30 non-officers involved in the protests and the recent mistrial in the high-profile case of an Austin officer charged with murder in the death of Michael Ramos. The case against the officer, prosecuted by Garza’s office, ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury.

Chris Morris
Author: Chris Morris

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