AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two Austin police officers were indicted on murder charges by a Travis County grand jury Thursday in connection with a 2019 death. For one officer, this will be the second murder indictment he’s faced.
The case alleges Austin Police Department Officers Christopher Taylor and Karl Krycia used excessive force that led to the death of Dr. Mauris DeSilva. Taylor and Krycia were indicted on one count of murder and one count of deadly conduct – discharge firearm each, according to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. Bail for both of them is set at $100,000.
DeSilva was having a mental breakdown in July 2019 and was holding a knife up to his own neck when officers arrived, past reports from APD said. Police said DeSilva moved the knife to his side when asked, but after he moved toward officers with the knife, he was shot and later died at the hospital.
“As Dr. DeSilva approached the officers, Officers Krycia and Taylor fired their duty weapons and another officer deployed a Taser,” the Austin Police Department said in a statement Friday.
There’s an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Austin, Taylor and Krycia.
Taylor has also been indicted for murder in the case of Mike Ramos, killed less than a year after DeSilva.
A UT law professor tells KXAN that it is rare for an officer to find themselves in that position.
“Studies have shown that in surveys of police officers nationally, the vast majority of police officers actually never even discharge their firearm,” explained Jennifer Laurin. “So, it is noteworthy, from the stand point of being a statistical outlier, to see an instance where a police officer has tragically twice had the experience of shooting and killing an individual.”
An attorney for the DeSilva family called the indictments “a step toward justice.”
“The tragic loss of their beloved son weighs on their hearts and their grief will last forever. Officer Taylor has now been indicted twice for murder. If the City of Austin had better trained police officers to handle mental health episodes, Dr. Desilva would be alive today. The City of Austin must be held accountable for their long history of failures in responding to mental health crises,” the statement continued.
The DA’s office previously said it was investigating both Taylor and Krycia for their involvement in DeSilva’s death. In a list of cases pending in the office’s Civil Rights Unit, it noted cases against the two men were expected to be brought before a grand jury this summer.
Taylor’s attorneys, Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell, along with Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday, held a news conference at 2:30 p.m. to talk about the indictment.
The attorneys claimed the DA’s Office did not present Taylor’s case fairly to the grand jury. They say the office did now allow a use-of-force expert to testify during the grand jury hearing.
“The government’s own hand picked use-of-force expert Dr. Howard Williams told the DA’s office that Officer Taylor’s use of force was legally justified, and yet the district attorney directed a grand jury investigation that resulted in indictments for murder,” said O’Connell.
The attorneys say they spoke with Dr. Williams himself on Thursday, who told them the shooting was justified and confirmed he didn’t get the chance to share his insight with the grand jury.
The DA’s Office released a statement rebutting the attorneys’ claims.
“The allegations that [District Attorney José Garza], or anyone acting in his capacity, would not let Dr. Williams testify are false. The State presented a thorough and balanced grand jury presentation consistent with its obligations under article 2.01 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,” a spokesperson for the DA’s Office said.
The office went on to say due to grand jury secrecy laws, it cannot release information about what exactly happened during the proceedings.
Casaday and the attorneys say not presenting exculpatory evidence is a pattern DA Garza follows when indicting law enforcement officers.
“Again, this is another political prosecution by DA Garza, and it’s not going to be tolerated,” Casaday said.
Ervin and O’Connell say these repeated indictments on police officers are making the Austin Police Department a less desirable place to work.
“They are doing everything they can to ensure we get a police department that is made up of inferior candidates,” O’Connell said.
Interim APD Police Chief Joseph Chacon also released a statement Friday, saying, “APD respects the role the Grand Jury holds in the criminal justice process and will continue to cooperate with the District Attorney’s Office on this case.”
Attorneys, APD disagree on two key events in the storyline
KXAN dove into press conferences and statements of attorneys for each officer, as well as the victim’s family. We also cross-checked that against the APD’s account of events.
All parties say that multiple officers took the elevator to DeSilva’s floor in his condominium complex and found him with his back turned and a knife to his own throat.
APD says DeSilva moved the knife to his side when police told him to do so.
Attorneys for the officers say DeSilva should have dropped the knife.
“[He] was told repeatedly to drop the knife and he did not,” said Ervin.
While the department and officer attorneys say DeSilva advanced toward officers, his family attorney says that wasn’t the case.
“As he turns around to respond to their authority, they shoot him. You know, he didn’t have a chance,” said Brad Vinson, one of two attorneys representing DeSilva’s family.
Vinson also said 911 callers told dispatch this was a mental health crisis. He said officers should have either arrived on scene with a mental health officer or handled the situation differently once they arrived.
“They didn’t handle it like that. And because of that, someone died when they shouldn’t have,” Vinson said.
Officer Taylor’s allies disagree, saying officers don’t always know it’s a mental health case when they are dispatched.
“I asked the officers today, ‘Do you remember what you were dispatched to? And they said it was a man with a knife call,’ said Casaday. “So, I’m not even sure they knew who they were dealing with at that time.”
Vinson alleges that once officers arrived on-scene, witnesses informed them about the crisis.
“That’s on the video, they’ll see that,” he said. “There were people there at the scene that were asking if they were mental health officers.”
Ervin said even if his client was aware of the mental crisis ahead of time, it may not have changed the outcome.
“That knife is going to supersede everything else,” Ervin said. “I don’t even know what mental health officer in this situation, if it would’ve made any difference at all.”
Where is the body camera footage?
Vinson said they are a under protective order and cannot legally release any footage related to the incident to the public.
“We’re urging APD to release the video; they released the video in the Ramos shooting,” he said. “Their new policy is to do a quick investigation or release the video as soon as possible.”
KXAN asked the police department why they have not yet released the video. As of publication, they had not responded.
APD said Taylor has been on leave without pay since the Mike Ramos shooting in April 2020. Krycia has been placed on paid administrative duty as criminal proceedings continue. Casaday did say Krycia returned to work with the department after the DeSilva shooting and has been doing an “amazing job” for the past two years.
Attorneys for Krycia released a statement on his behalf Friday evening, saying in part, “while we realize any loss of life is tragic, we do believe that [Krycia’s] actions were reasonable under the facts and justified under the law.”