Use of force charges dropped against Austin police officer, Travis County DA apologizes

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Charges have been dropped against one Austin Police officer after a review of a March 2019 use-of-force incident found his actions were justified.

On Tuesday, Travis County District Attorney José Garza announced the pending indictment against APD Officer Gregory Gentry was dismissed “in the best interest of justice.”

The release from Garza claims, during the previous administration, an Assistant District Attorney obtained an expert opinion that had evidence helpful to the defense. Garza says when the case was presented to a grand jury in January, that exculpatory evidence wasn’t discussed with the prosecution or disclosed to the defense.

The release says no one in the office was aware of the opinion. A new ADA was assigned to the case in May and found the evidence, which Garza said was “immediately disclosed to the defense.”

The release says the ADA who presented the case to the grand jury is no longer employed with the office.

A letter from Garza stated an expert concluded that Officer Gentry’s use of force was lawful.

“Upon review, we have decided that a dismissal of the indictment is the appropriate action to take in this case and best serves the interest of justice,” said District Attorney José Garza. “I offer my sincere apologies to Officer Gentry who undoubtedly suffered as a result of this process.”

Statement from Officer Gentry’s attorneys

Attorneys for Officer Gentry released a statement on the DA’s announcement Monday afternoon.

“The only thing shocking to us about today’s announcement from DA Garza is that he is
voluntarily dismissing Officer Gentry’s case…We do not know what evidence was presented to, or withheld from, the grand jury in Officer Gentry’s case because it was not recorded. Once again we are calling on Mr. Garza to live up to his campaign promise of transparency and to record and transcribe all grand jury testimony in law enforcement cases so that this sort of abuse can be identified.”

Original investigation into the case

Gentry was facing felony assault charges related to an incident in 2019 when he and fellow officer Chance Bretches attempted to stop what they believed was a narcotics deal.

According to APD, a fight ensued when Gentry and Bretches tried arresting one of the suspects — the suspect and officers were hurt during the scuffle in March 2019.

An APD release said the officers’ actions were “deemed compliant with policy and training,” upon initial review by the APD Executive Team, Special Investigations Unit and the Force Review Board.

The Office of Police Oversight told KXAN it was briefed on and reviewed the videos on April 19, 2019. It said Director Farah Muscadin “expressed concerns on the level of force used” to APD.

APD said it worked with former district attorney Margaret Moore and said “based on the Department’s findings that the officers’ conduct was within policy, the case was not forwarded to the DA’s Civil Rights Division.”

The suspect complained to the Office of Police Oversight in October 2019 and a notice was forwarded to APD.

The Office of Police Oversight said APD opened an internal complaint into what happened in March 2020, but “both internal and external complaints were closed without any formal investigation.”

At the time, Garza said two of his senior assistant district attorneys, who he described as “experienced,” “identified potential misconduct and brought it to the Office of Civil Rights Unit.” He said they independently alerted the unit and that an investigation was opened and approved to be presented to a grand jury in 2020.

Garza says the case was expected to go before a grand jury in March 2020, but was delayed to January 2021 due to COVID-19.

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