AUSTIN, Texas - Travis County District Attorney José Garza hasn't been in office a month, but he says he is ready to take on a long-running hot topic in the community: the use of force by law enforcement.
"What we want our community to understand is that we are going to be working hard every day to make sure our criminal justice system works regardless of a person's race or ethnicity, regardless of their income, regardless of their job status or title, and that means that if a law enforcement officer commits a crime, we are going to hold that law enforcement officer accountable," said Garza.
On Thursday, Garza announced he will post regular updates on every case pending in his civil rights unit. He listed a dozen unindicted cases involving people who either died or were injured during encounters with law enforcement, including seven APD officer-involved shootings, three in-custody deaths, an alleged sex crime, and a claim of false arrest.
The oldest is the death of Aquintis Griffin in August 2018. Confrontations during the protests that occurred this past spring and summer are also under review. Ten complaints have been made by protesters who claim crimes were committed when they were hit by less than lethal projectiles.
Garza told FOX7 his announcement should not be considered anti-cop. "Absolutely not, we work hard every single day with law enforcement, and we will continue to work hard every single day with law enforcement to keep our community safe," he said.
Three cases already under indictment were also noted. They involve former AFD investigator Marcus Reed and APD officers Nathaniel Stallings and Lando Hall. High profile cases like the shooting death of Michael Ramos and the in-custody death of Javier Ambler are to be presented to a Travis County grand jury before March 30th.
Garza was asked about the release last year of only a portion of the police video from the incident, and if he is worried that tainted the grand jury process. "I am not at all concerned about the steps that this office has previously taken and their impact on our ability to move forward with that case," he said.
A statement was sent to FOX7 from attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell who are representing the officers in the Ramos and Ambler case. It read in part:
"It is clear to us that the former DA understood criminal indictments were neither warranted nor appropriate in either case, but she did not want to suffer the political consequences of declining prosecution or having a grand jury refuse to issue indictments."
The two attorneys also urged the DA to present all the evidence from both incidents. Their statement includes requesting the DA to record and transcribe the entire grand jury reviews so the judges, defense lawyers, and the public can see how the review was done.
The recent shooting of Alexander Gonzalez on Jan. 5 will be among the cases the DA plans to present later this fall, all in chronological order. In his announcement Thursday, Garza expressed sympathies to the family of Gonzalez and to everyone who has been affected.