In-Depth: Pending investigations into law enforcement misconduct on the Travis County D.A.’s desk

Investigations
Travis County District Attorney (KXAN Photo)

Travis County District Attorney (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A grand jury has indicted two Austin Police officers and a Travis County Sheriff’s Office corrections officer on criminal charges in two separate incidents.

The new Travis County District Attorney, José Garza, announced these indictments just over a week after his office released detailed updates for two dozen cases of potential law enforcement misconduct pending in his office’s Civil Rights Division.

“It is so important that our community have faith and trust in our criminal justice system,” Garza told KXAN’s criminal justice reporter Avery Travis after he released the list in mid-January. “That they have faith if a law enforcement officer engages in misconduct — that if a law enforcement officer breaks the law — that they will be held accountable. So, that is our goal.”

He said his office would prioritize investigations into officers’ involvement in the deaths of Mike Ramos and Javier Ambler. His office plans to present those cases to the grand jury before it disbands on March 30 — along with another case alleging sexual misconduct against a former police officer.

Garza said his office planned to handle the rest of the pending cases chronologically — vowing to update the public every two weeks until they are brought before a grand jury.

Here’s an in-depth look at each case on the D.A.’s list:

Javier Ambler Case

Javier Ambler died in the custody of Williamson County deputies in March 2019, following a chase that began when he reportedly failed to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic. Ambler’s death was recorded during a taping of the A&E reality show “Live PD,” but the footage never aired.

Ambler can be heard on body camera footage recorded by an Austin Police Department officer saying “I can’t breathe” and informing officers he suffered from congestive heart failure. His family has since filed a civil lawsuit against Williamson County.

Garza’s office said there were several investigations into law enforcement allegedly involved in the incident, namely the former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and general counsel for the county, Jason Nassour. Chody and Nassaour were indicted felony charges of tampering with evidence in the case in Williamson County last year.

Garza’s office also announced pending investigations into four deputies.

For more details on this case:

Investigation regarding Walter Dodds

In May 2020, APD announced its was investigating 34-year-old Walter Dodds for sexual misconduct.

Later that year, Dodds was arrested on a sexual assault charge. According to the arrest affidavit, he was accused of assaulting a woman he met on a call as a police officer.

That affidavit explained Dodds made contact with a woman while responding to a call involving a different person at an apartment in northeast Austin on April 18. The woman later reported being awoken by an officer sexually assaulting her while in uniform. According to the affidavit, through DNA analysis, it was believed Dodds’ DNA was present at the scene.

APD told KXAN he was placed on restricted duty during an investigation into the accusations, but Dodds resigned on Aug. 31, before the administrative investigation into the incident was completed.

For more details on this case:

Mike Ramos case

On April 24, 2020, 42-year-old Michael Ramos was shot in the parking lot of a south Austin apartment building during a confrontation with police.

The case sparked controversy over the summer after body and dash camera videos of the incident were released, and protesters marched in Ramos’ name.

It’s currently under a joint investigation conducted by APD’s Special Investigations Unit and the Travis County District Attorney Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Garza expects to present it before a grand jury by March 30.

Garza’s office said they were investigating two officers. APD confirmed one was still serving on regular duty, while the other, Christopher Taylor, has been placed on administrative duty. The district attorney’s office also noted Taylor is under another pending investigation — involving claims regarding the death of Mauris DeSilva (see below).

For more details on the Ramos case:

Aquantis Griffin case

In August 2018, Aquantis Griffin, 21, died of multiple gunshots fired by APD officers. Police said he ran toward officers with a gun near East 6th and Trinity Streets in downtown. When officers told him to drop the gun, police said Griffin pointed it at them instead.

Two years later, Griffin’s family filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin in civil court, calling his death an “unjustified killing.”

Garza’s office said it was investigating nine officers allegedly involved, and APD confirmed to KXAN all of the officers listed are still serving on regular duty at the department.

The D.A. expects to present this case to a grand jury in early summer 2021.

For more details on this case:

Isaiah Hutchinson case

In March 2019, 23-year-old Isaiah Hutchinson’s body was found in an abandoned Maserati, after an officer-involved shooting.

Garza’s release stated the four officers allegedly involved in this incident were working downtown during the South by Southwest Festival. APD confirmed to KXAN all four of them are still serving on regular duty at the department.

Garza’s office expects to present this case to a grand jury in early summer 2021.

Carlos Dodero case

In April 2019, APD officers responded to multiple calls to 911 for a disturbance occurring on the Pennybacker Bridge. A viewer’s dash camera video of the incident showed a woman running from her husband after a crash, before trying to get into another car. According to witnesses at the time, the man pinned the woman to the ground, but several bystanders came to her aid.

He reportedly ran into a wooded area nearby, where officers’ body cameras captured audio of them commanding him to drop a gun. According to APD Police Chief Brian Manley at the time of the incident, the man could be heard saying, “I have a gun, I will shoot you.” Dodero later died from gunshot injuries.

Garza said two officers currently being investigated, in conjunction with APD’s Special Investigations Unit. Still, his office expects to present it to a grand jury in early summer 2021. APD reports both officers are on regular duty with the force.

Mauris DeSilva case

According to the D.A.’s office, 46-year-old Mauris Nishanga DeSilva died from multiple gunshot wounds after a confrontation with police in downtown Austin on July 31, 2019.

According to a security guard at the scene, a resident of the condominiums was holding a knife to his own throat when officers arrived. Police reported DeSilva ignored commands to stop and walked towards responding officers with a knife.

At the time, Chief Brian Manley said, “I do want to take a moment really to express our heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased here today. Again, it was someone who apparently was in some level of mental crisis that drew us out here today and resulted in the scene that played out behind us in this condominium tower.”

Tyler Grist case

On August 31, 2019, Tyler Grist, 28, was found unconscious in his cell in the Travis County jail. He later died at the hospital.

The case is being jointly investigated by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Travis County D.A. Civil Rights Unit, but Garza did not give a timeline for this investigation.

Fred Babcock case

Fred Louis Babcock, 74, was killed after police said he barricaded himself in an apartment off Anderson Lane and fired multiple shots at SWAT team members outside.

Neighbors in the area were evacuated during the standoff, and Babcock’s wife was reported to be treated at the hospital for injuries after officers forced their way inside to get her out. Babcock died as a result of a gunshot wound, after being fired upon by a sniper with APD.

The case is still under a joint investigation by APD’s Special Investigations Unit and the Travis County District Attorney Office’s Civil Rights Unit, but Garza’s office expects the investigation should be concluded in time be presented to a grand jury in early fall 2021.

For more details on this case:

Enrique Quiroz case

Enrique Quiroz, 41, died after “suffering a medical emergency” in the custody of Austin police officers and Austin-Travis County EMS on March 31, 2020. Quiroz was arrested following a fight with officers, and APD said a stun gun was used on Quiroz to subdue him.

The D.A. said multiple officers were involved in the investigation. They expect this case will be presented to a grand jury in early fall 2021.

For more details on this case:

Dylan Polinski case

Dylan Polinski, 23, was shot in the leg by officers during a SWAT standoff at north Austin hotel. According to APD at the time, he was being sought on a previous warrant for aggravated robbery out of Williamson County.

APD’s Special Investigations Unit and the D.A.’s office Civil Rights Unit are both investigating this incident. At the time, APD Assistant Chief Troy Gay stated both officers would be placed on paid administrative leave. APD confirmed to KXAN one of the officers allegedly involved was still on administrative leave.

The D.A. expects to present the case to a grand jury “no later” than early fall of 2021.

Alexander Gonzalez case

Alexander Gonzales, 27, died in early January, after an incident on Wickersham Lane near Oltorf Street in southeast Austin. According to an off-duty police officer, Gonzales cut him off in traffic, then pointed a gun at him. Additional on-duty officers responded and shot at Gonzales.

The case is also undergoing a joint investigation involving the APD’s Special Investigations Unit and the D.A.’s Civil Rights Unit. Garza said he expects to present this case to a grand jury this fall, as well.

Investigations into injuries at summer protests

Garza’s office said there were 10 different investigations into injuries sustained by people protesting police brutality during the weekend of May 30 and 31, following the deaths of George Floyd and Mike Ramos.

In each incident, a complainant claimed to have been hit by “bean bag” ammunition. One of these cases involves a minor. Police also used pepper spray and less-than-lethal bean bag and foam bullets to disperse crowds — some of whom gathered on Interstate 35.

In December, the City of Austin announced 11 Austin police officers were disciplined for their actions during the protests and seven more were on administrative duty as the district attorney’s office reviewed their cases. When KXAN requested the duty status of the 10 officers named in D.A. Garza’s report, the department indicated all 10 mentioned were still serving on regular duty.

Garza’s office said a full review of these use of force allegations is still underway, but he expects to present these cases to a grand jury in early fall of 2021.

For more information on these cases:

Indictments already handed down

The list of cases pending in the Civil Rights Division and released by Garza’s office also included three cases which have already gone before a grand jury, resulting in a law enforcement officer’s indictment. Those include:

State of Texas v. Marcus Reed

A former Austin Fire Department arson investigator — accused of the 2017 sexual assault of a woman — was found guilty of aggravated perjury last year, but a mistrial was declared on the sexual assault charge. Garza’s office said a retrial for this case was set for Jan. 25, 2021.

Last year, Reed was also indicted on a charge of Indecency with a Child by Sexual Contact. That jury trial is also scheduled for January 25.

For more details on this case, click here.

State of Texas v. Nathaniel Stallings

A former Austin police officer was charged with Assault and Abuse of Official Capacity in 2018, after an incident where he was accused of using excessive force with a woman suspected of prostitution.

Both cases are pending a jury trial on April 19, 2021, according to Garza’s office.

For more details on this case, click here.

State of Texas v. Lando Hall

Earlier this month, a grand jury indicted an officer with APD on seven charges, accusing him of using his access to help someone he knew with personal court cases.

Garza’s office said no date has been set for this trial, but it was pending in District Court.

For more details on this case, click here.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, criminal jury trials are still not happening in Travis County.

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