APD officers found not guilty on charges in excessive force trial

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — APD officers Robert Pfaff and Donald Petraitis found not guilty on all charges in excessive force trial. The jury deliberated for six hours.

In a joint statement after the verdict Wednesday night, attorneys for the officers said they were pleased. “We’ve been expecting this result since the officers were indicted nine months ago after a rushed and flawed investigation,” they wrote. “We will no work toward having these men reinstated in their positions on the SWAT team with the Austin Police Department.” 

The charges are tied to an incident on Feb. 16, in which the officers tasered Quentin Perkins, a man who was a witness to a shooting the officers were responding to. What is in question is whether their use of force was justified and whether the officers knowingly filed a report that was inconsistent the body camera footage from that day. The body camera footage came from another officer who responded to the scene with Petraitis and Pfaff at that time.

Officials with APD said in a press conference they will now work to reinstate both officers to their original positions on the SWAT team. 

“It was not fair to anyone that an indictment was handed down within 12 days of assigning this case to the detective,” Austin Police Association President Kenneth Casaday said. “From the time the Austin Police Association was brought up to speed on this case, we felt like there was a rush to judgment and a more thorough investigation could have been done if the investigator had not been pressured by the Chief’s office and subsequently the DA’s office.” 

The charges the jurors weighed

For Pfaff: assault, two counts of official oppression, two counts of tampering government record, aggravated perjury, perjury, and abuse of official capacity. (The perjury charge came because Pfaff was the one who filed the affidavit for Perkins’ arrest).

For Petraitis: assault, two counts of official oppression, abuse of official capacity, and tampering with a government record.

Previously, the two faced tampering with evidence charges too, but those were dismissed.

Both have pled not guilty to those charges

The information before the jurors

Petraitis was the officer who called for the tasing, Pfaff was the one who used the taser. Pfaff was the one who submitted the report about the incident afterward.

Earlier in the day Wednesday, prosecutors called Howard Williams, a Texas State Lecturer in the School of Criminal Justice, as an expert to view body camera video from the incident. Williams testified that he did not think the taser should have been used because at the time of the use of force, Perkins was on his knees with his hands in the air.

The defense made the argument that the tasing happened over a very short period of time and that people can easily make errors when filing reports.

They played videos of the officers recounting what happened to one another on the night of the incident, at that time the officers noted that Perkins was not dangerous, just that he was slow to follow commands. The defense also suggested that Pfaff and Petraitis would have been OK with letting Perkins go without an arrest that night, but other officers wanted to file charges.

Defense attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell recounted testimony from other APD employees about the character of Pfaff and Petraitis and how well they’d been trained.

Ervin said these officers were “saddled and punished with a rushed and botched investigation.”

He also noted that his team called testified that Perkins may have appeared to be a threat at the time of the incident.

Prosecutor Dexter Gilford emphasized to the jurors that Perkins got on the ground when officers told him too, but noted that the officers’ commands at the time were confusing. The defense had been suggesting that Perkins didn’t comply fast enough, but Gilford said the video shows Perkins did get on the ground when asked.

Gilford said he felt Perkins has been “depersonalized” during the entire trial, noting that someone like Perkins who got tased typically wouldn’t be believed in a court of law, but in this case, Gilford said the officer’s body camera video backed up Gilford’s story.

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