Garza released details on all pending cases, three indicted and 23 unindicted, regarding potential law enforcement misconduct Thursday. The Ambler and Ramos cases were left to Garza in September by former District Attorney Margaret Moore, and Garza will present those cases before the March 31 grand jury expiration date.
Details on six additional cases involving police shootings or in-custody deaths that happened prior to Garza’s tenure were also included, the oldest of these dating back to March 2018.
The cases are handled by the District Attorney Office’s Civil Rights Unit. According to Garza, the office will provide a regular status update on each case every 14 days until they’ve been presented to a grand jury.
“It is so important that our community have faith and trust in our criminal justice system — that they have faith if a law enforcement officer engages in misconduct, that if a law enforcement officer breaks the law — that they will be held accountable. So, that is our goal,” Garza said.
The list includes 10 allegations of use-of-force against people during the protests last summer following the deaths of George Floyd and Michael Ramos — noting these cases are still under investigation, but are expected to go before a grand jury by fall of 2021.
His office will prioritize the Ambler case, Ramos case and another 2020 case involving a former officer, Walter Dodds, accused of sexual assault.
“Our offices had previously made a commitment those cases would go quickly. We also know that these cases are really emblematic of the sentiment of our community in this moment,” he said. “We are working on these cases as we speak.”
After the current Grand Jury’s term expires at the end of March, more grand juries will be empaneled and the remaining cases will be presented to them starting in June, in chronological order.
Javier Ambler died March 28, 2019 while being detained by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office.
The chase leading to Ambler’s death was recorded by a production crew for the A&E reality show “Live PD,” but that footage was never aired and was later destroyed.
The update provided by Garza’s office lists pending cases against Former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody, attorney Jason Nassour and four other officers.
Note: Until a case is presented to a grand jury and they return an indictment, no person named on the D.A.’s office list has been charged with a crime.
In Williamson County, Chody was indicted on a tampering with evidence charge in September in relation to the Ambler case, as was Nassour, the county’s general counsel.
Mike Ramos died after Austin Police Department officers shot him April 24, 2020.
Ramos’ mother has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officer who fired the shots that killed him, Christopher Taylor.
The defense attorneys representing the law enforcement officers in the Ramos and Ambler cases released a statement, saying they “welcome and encourage a fair and thorough review process where a grand jury hears all the evidence,” and that they believe their clients will not be indicted if that happens.
“These cases should have been presented to a grand jury months ago. The former DA indicted other law enforcement officers during the pandemic but specifically left the Ramos and Ambler matters for the incoming DA. Based on our knowledge of the facts, it is clear to us that the former DA understood criminal indictments were neither warranted nor appropriate in either case, but she did not want to suffer the political consequences of declining prosecution or having a grand jury refuse to issue indictments,” wrote Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell, who represent APD officer Christopher Taylor and Williamson County deputies Zachary Camden and J.J. Johnson.
These attorneys also called on Garza to make the grand jury process public in these cases. Typically, the records from grand jury proceedings are sealed. Plus, there is no presiding judge, as the proceedings are led by a prosecutor.
In an interview with KXAN’s Avery Travis Thursday morning, Garza insisted transparency with the public was the primary goal of his office’s announcement.
Listen to KXAN’s interview with D.A. Garza:
“Our goal is to further and create a criminal justice system where everyone is created equally, regardless of their race or ethnicity, regardless of their income, regardless of their title or job responsibilities,” he said.
When asked if he worried any of his office’s policies would damage working relationships with agencies, he responded they were still working closely with law enforcement to keep the community safe.
He went on, “My sense is that all law enforcement understands that when law enforcement officers break the law, that it damages their ability to do their job.”
Garza explained virtual grand jury proceedings were happening, so he doesn’t expect any delays caused by coronavirus in these cases. However, criminal jury trials are still not underway in Travis County.
The list also includes two shootings involving police from the first two weeks of 2021. In one of those incidents, 27-year-old Alexander Gonzales was killed.
“It is a tragedy for our community, and I would like to express my sympathies to the family of Mr. Gonzales, and to everyone who has been affected,” said José Garza, Travis County District Attorney.
Austin Police could not comment on the D.A.’s announcement, but did provide an update on the employment status of their officers mentioned. All but six officers were still serving on regular duty.
Earlier this month, the D.A.’s office announced an indictment against Officer Lando Hall. A spokesperson for APD said Hall has been placed on restricted duty without pay.
Officer Christopher Taylor, who is under investigation for the shooting death of Mike Ramos, is on administrative duty, along with an officer involved in the ongoing investigation into the Gonzales case.