AUSTIN, Texas - As a 16-year-old was killed by police in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday, it’s sparking conversations here in Austin. Body camera footage, in that case, was released almost immediately, but for some families, they are still waiting for their release date, months later.
The family of Alex Gonzales Jr. has been waiting more than four months to see the video of what happened to their son, brother, and cousin.
The only video they have seen is through news reports and witness video; no official video has been shown to them. It’s leaving this family with more questions on why they aren’t getting answers.
"They have much better policies when it comes to police accountability in other parts of the country. And so that's what they're seeing play out on the news," said Rebecca Webber, the family attorney for Gonzales.
Video of the critical incident was first set to be released in March, but Austin Police said due to the winter storm, it would be delayed to April 4th. When the second date came around, APD announced it was delaying the video again.
"At 7:30 pm, the day before I got an email from APD saying that they had decided to delay the release," Webber said.
She said the family had taken off work and was preparing emotionally to watch a video, no one should ever have to watch. "The disrespect that they have been shown by the Austin Police Department twice, getting them worked up to the point where, 'okay, we're going to watch this video of our son's homicide' and then twice being told, 'Oh no, you know, we don't have our stuff together yet," said Webber.
The family, who had been waiting for months, is now asked to wait longer. "At some point, these parents can't continue to go through this," she said.
Across the nation, there have been cases of body camera footage being released almost immediately.
In Ohio, a 16-year-old was shot by police Tuesday. The mayor there tweeted out "This afternoon a young woman tragically lost her life. We do not know all of the details. There is body-worn camera footage of the incident. We are working to review it as soon as possible." Hours later, the footage was released.
According to APD's website, their body camera policy states that within 60 days of a "critical incident," APD must release the video on a public website. The policy also states officials may delay the release, but only in cases where the safety of people involved is at risk; when it may jeopardize confidential sources or investigative techniques; or to protect the rights of someone who is accused.
If the chief decides to not release the video at all, he must provide a specific reason. The reason cannot be general and must have factual basis and be specific to an individual case.
APD sent a statement in response to FOX 7 Austin's request, saying:
"In 2019, the Austin Police Department created a policy regarding the public release of critical incident videos and other materials with the Office of Police Oversight (OPO), Travis County District Attorney’s Office and community stakeholders such as the Austin Justice Coalition, ACLU, Just Liberty, Grassroots Leadership, Texas Fair Defense Project, and ATXN. We continue to work on providing a clear and unbiased account of critical incidents to the community with the goal of transparency and accountability through the release of community briefing videos."
Austin Mayor Steve Adler says it’s not acceptable. He said footage needs to be out quickly and within a day or two. "I think that it's something that can get information to the community and then ultimately serves to protect everybody, including the police officers," he said.
He added while there has been progress made with APD's body camera policy, there is still a ways to go. "I think that it gives an additional measure of accountability," he said. "You know, our police officers should be accountable, and they want to be held accountable."
Adler said he will push the city manager and the police department on changes so that people can get full transparency. "This is something that we'll continue to push for," he said.
Webber says the only way to get some sort of justice is not through APD. "The only answer is that we mandate that these videos be released, and the Texas legislature is the obvious place for that law to come from," she said.
The release date for the video is still set for the beginning of May.