AUSTIN (KXAN) — Body-camera recordings of a deadly Austin police shooting Jan. 5 were released to family members, attorneys and the officers involved Tuesday and will be released to the public on Wednesday.
The mother of 27-year-old Alex Gonzales, the man who was shot and killed, was set to speak at a news conference after watching the footage, but she was too overcome with emotion to do so.
Other family representatives and community advocates spoke about the incident, including Bertha Delgado. She called the length of time it took APD to release the footage “unacceptable.”
“Our community is in danger, because we don’t trust APD,” she said. “The community is backing up Ms. Gonzales’ family, and we’re not going to stop fighting for her.”
It was during that news conference APD announced it will release the video to the public Wednesday through its website.
Officer shot at Alex Gonzales in traffic before he was later killed
Off-duty police officer Gabriel Gutierrez was driving in his personal car and shot at Gonzales from the moving car after he said Gonzales cut him off in traffic and then pointed a gun at him. After shooting at Gonzales, Gutierrez called for backup. There was no body cam footage of this officer’s actions. Police said they later did find a gun in Gonzales’ car.
Gonzales drove a little farther before stopping on Wickersham Lane in southeast Austin as other on-duty police officers responded.
APD said body cam and dash cam footage shows officers gave Gonzales multiple commands he did not follow. He got out of his car and went to the back passenger side of his car and reached inside. A responding on-duty police officer, Luis Serrato, then shot Gonzales multiple times, killing him.
Gonzales’ girlfriend and the mother of his baby was in the passenger seat, and she too was shot but survived. Their 2-month-old baby in the backseat was not hurt. Family members said Gonzales was likely reaching into the backseat to check on his baby since police had already shot into his car.
Gutierrez has been with APD for five years, and Serrato has been with APD for two years.
Attorney describes video that will be released
Attorney for Gonzales’ parents, Scott Hendler, described what he watched with the victim’s mother Tuesday ahead of the public release.
“I think when you see the video, it’s going to be heartbreaking and tragic,” he told reporters. “What happened is unconscionable, in my opinion. There’s no credible defense for it.”
Going on to describe the video, Hendler recalled, “He’s clearly wounded. The officers responding know that he’s bleeding, because the first officer who called for backup reported to the dispatcher, ‘He’s got blood on his face.’ He can be seen walking very unsteadily toward the back of the car using the car to hold him up. You can see him walk behind the car he has no weapon in his hand. He doesn’t brandish a weapon. He doesn’t have anything in his hand. He doesn’t point anything at the officers. He walks to the other side of the vehicle where his girlfriend and the mother of his child is lying on the ground, wounded, to check on her. She asks him to check on the baby. He then opens the back door to look in and leans in to check on the baby, and that’s when he’s shot.”
Hendler acknowledged that police said they later found a firearm on the floorboard in the car Gonzales was driving.
“But at no time in any of the videos is he seen brandishing the weapon, let alone holding the weapon, so I think that what the public is going to see is going to be very upsetting,” Hendler said.
Delay in the release of body cam footage
APD was supposed to release the dash cam and body cam footage of the shooting within 60 days, according to city policy, but failed to do so. That would have been March 6. With the video being released on April 28, it will have taken Austin Police 113 days to release the video.
“We’re coming into May this weekend. Unacceptable. Unacceptable,” Delgado said.
Austin Police said the weeklong winter storm that hit in mid-February would delay the release.
“That doesn’t necessarily account for the entire delay,” said Hendler. “So I don’t know all the reasons why it’s longer than it should have been.”
There have been multiple videos that were delayed, prompting families of those killed to speak out in March.
Meanwhile, attorneys for Officer Serrato, Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell, issued an open letter to APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon and Travis County District Attorney José Garza, asking them not to release the body and dash cam footage of the Gonzales shooting Wednesday.
The letter said, in part, “Releasing video footage under the guise of transparency, in this manner and at this time, is completely counterproductive to the overriding goal of maintaining fairness in our justice system and ensuring public confidence that the system worked properly. There is an appropriate time for evidence to be released, but tomorrow is not that time. You are damaging the legal process.”
Serrato’s attorneys instead called on DA Garza to show transparency in his own processes, asking him to “record every word spoken” during the grand jury review to show the community was presented the case fairly.
KXAN asked the director of the Office of Police Oversight for clarity on why the video release took so long. She said that’s a question for APD. KXAN asked APD for clarity on the timeline repeatedly Tuesday but had not gotten a response as of Tuesday evening.