Travis County DA continues deadly use of force investigations despite grand jury delay

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AUSTIN (KXAN) —The Travis County District Attorney’s Office will continue to investigate the use of force by police that led to the deaths of Mike Ramos and Javier Ambler, despite District Attorney Margaret Moore’s delay of grand jury presentations.

Assistant District Attorney Dexter Gilford, who leads the Travis County District Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Unit, said he works on the Ramos and Ambler cases “every day.”

“These cases are going to be ready to be presented (by the next district attorney),” Gilford told KXAN. “The only thing that we anticipate that would need to be done is scheduling (a grand jury).”

Ramos was unarmed when he was shot and killed by Austin police after attempting to flee arrest on April 24. Ambler died in the custody of Williamson County deputies after a 22-minute pursuit that ended in Austin.

Moore announced Wednesday that she would not present the Ramos and Ambler cases to a grand jury before leaving office, despite a previous commitment that she would present the cases this summer. She was defeated by José Garza in the Democratic primary runoff on July 14.

“By overwhelmingly supporting a candidate for District Attorney who ran on a platform of changing how officer-involved shooting cases are prosecuted, I believe the community has clearly stated it would like to see the new administration oversee the prosecution of these cases from beginning to end,” Moore said in a statement.

Garza advances to face Republican Martin Harry in the general election in November. Travis County’s next district attorney won’t take office until January 2021, delaying presentation of the deadly use of force cases to a grand jury by at least six months.

In an interview with KXAN, Garza said the Ramos and Ambler cases would be his “top priority” if elected.

“When someone who is unarmed is killed then our district attorney’s office has an obligation to fight for those families,” Garza said. “What we have talked about from the beginning, and what I pledge to do, is to build an office that supports the needs of all victims and that fights for families.”

“That’s what we intend to do.”

Harry, unlike Garza, thinks the district attorney should have discretion over which use of force cases are presented to a grand jury. If a grand jury does not produce an indictment, most information about the case remains outside public view.

“This is really a travesty of justice for (Moore) to put off any further action on these two cases after we’ve had the delays that we’ve had so far,” Harry said. “She’s still the district attorney. She’s still getting paid to serve. She should not be abdicating her responsibilities.”

Gilford said the Travis County District Attorney’s Office is preparing the Ramos and Ambler cases as if they will be presenting to a grand jury. Extra time can be used to wait for the completion of forensic reports and consult expert witnesses, he said.

“It’s difficult to say that that election was not a referendum on how this administration has been handling officer-involved shooting and death in custody cases,” Gilford said. “We wanted to do the right thing.”

The Office of Police Oversight told KXAN that a narrative video about Ramos’ death is on pace to be released by the end of July.

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