As Austin homicides rise 19 cops are hit with felony charges, police officers furious: 'new war on cops' – Fox News

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FIRST ON FOX: Nineteen officers in the Austin Police Department have been indicted by the city’s Democratic district attorney on felony assault charges exacerbating already enflamed tensions between law enforcement and city leadership.
Austin set a new record for homicides in January 2022 – 11 – building on the record-shattering 89 homicides the city suffered in 2021. Violent crime has been on the rise in the Texas capital since the early stages of the COVID pandemic, and accelerated when the Democrat-controlled city council voted unanimously to slash the Austin Police Department’s funding by about $150 million, or about a third of its budget, in August 2020. 
Police Chief Joseph Chacon(Austin Police Department)
The cuts prompted a wave of retirements and departures from APD over the course of 2021. 
By the time Mayor Steve Adler and the city council gutted APD’s budget, the violent riots had already come and gone. Police had cleared roads protesters had illegally occupied and faced more than one attempt by large groups of people who threw bottles and rocks at them and attempted to storm police headquarters. 
Other cities such as Seattle and Minneapolis had had police precincts abandoned by leadership and occupied, and then destroyed, by rioters. Austin police had quietly stopped a breakaway section similar to Seattle’s CHOP/CHAZ from forming in the Texas capital.
Austin on Monday reported 88 newly confirmed coronavirus cases —  its highest single-day increase since the pandemic began.  (iStock )
Activist Jose Garza ran for Travis County District Attorney on the Democratic ticket in 2020 on a platform of prosecuting police officers and is following through on that. To date he has indicted at least 25 officers in 14 months, many on accusations on which they have already been investigated by APD and his predecessor and cleared. At the same time, a local news investigation found that Garza is reducing and dismissing charges against accused offenders at a fast pace – hundreds of cases in just a few months, according to the KVUE report.
Garza has instituted policies that lean in favor of releasing accused versus prosecuting them, critics say.
When Fox News asked Garza for a full list of the officers he has indicted last week, his office was quick to provide a detailed report. When Fox followed up and asked if Garza is also tracking prosecutions of those who committed violence or property damage during the riots that spanned more than two months, Garza’s office claimed it was unable to.
“No, I can’t and as far as I know, we don’t track any of our cases that way,” Travis County DA Public Information Officer Ismael Martinez told Fox News at the time. “You would need to create an open records request to get that information.”
On Thursday, Garza held an unusual press event during which he predicted charges against a number of Austin police officers in a statement that left many confused, since he did not name the officers or specify the charges they face despite having already secured indictments against them. 
Over a dozen officers were injured by protesters during the unrest on May 30 and 31 including several officers who were struck by bottles, rocks, jars of paint, and frozen water bottles that were hurled at them by the unruly mob. Some protesters were also injured by beanbag rounds the officers used, per department policy at the time, to restore order. 
Late Thursday night, Fox News obtained the list of APD officers Garza has indicted and the charges they all face. All 19 face first degree felony charges, despite the fact that all but one of them had been investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing in the actions they took in response to the riots. One of them, Justin Berry, is in the midst of a primary race for the Texas House of Representatives as a Republican, raising questions about Garza’s timing.
Early voting in the 2022 primary started Monday, February 14, and the primary vote is March 1. In a press conference Thursday, Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday was first to raise the issue of whether Garza timed the preview he conducted Thursday and the charges he will levy on an unspecified date is related to politics. 
“It’s an absolute disgrace, and it sickens me that DA Garza is using working officers as pawns in a political game of chess,” Casaday said during the press conference.
Fox News has reviewed the full list of 19 officers charged and all of the officers face multiple first degree felony charges for aggravated assault by a public servant. One of the officers indicted, Officer Justin Berry, is currently a Republican candidate for the Texas State House of Representatives. 
Legal representatives for the officers as well as police union officials have claimed that the less-lethal beanbag rounds used to quell the riot were known by the department to be defective. 
“The department issued these officers old and deteriorated beanbag rounds,” attorney Doug O’Connell told Fox News. “So rather than coming out as a soft beanbag they came out as a hardened projectile…so you had rioters who were seriously injured by these beanbags and it shouldn’t have happened but it’s not the officers’ fault it’s management’s fault.”
“It’s probably a very righteous personal injury case,” O’Connell added. “But it doesn’t make the officers’ actions illegal or a criminal offense.”
The Austin City Council approved on Thursday two settlement agreements with protesters who were injured in the protests, according to KXAN.
A recent independent study found that APD is down about 220 officers from the size of the force needed for public safety in the fast-growing city of nearly 1 million residents.
Dennis Farris, president of the Austin Police Retired Officer’s Association told Fox Thursday that Garza is waging “war” on police.
(Travis County DA Website)
“Today in Austin, Texas we see another front in the war on police in this country,” Farris told Fox. “These indictments are strictly political in nature and this is what he ran on when he ran for district attorney. In issuing these indictments today he knows he will never get one conviction of any officer in these cases.” 
A source with knowledge of the cases agreed, telling Fox News simply “This is the new war on cops,” adding that where they once faced armed ambushes on the streets, they now face cases such as the serious charges Garza is mounting against them. 
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told Fox News on Friday that he is monitoring the case.
“Texas’ Soros-funded leftist DA Jose Garza is attacking Austin Police for protecting us against the 2020 BLM riots,” Paxton said. “We should defend those who protect us – instead of those who commit crimes.” Paxton added: “I stand in support of the cops that Garza wants to destroy. These officers deserve the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.”
The nearly 50 APD officers who walked off the job in protest of the indictments this week are back to work Friday, as are the 19 who face indictment and probably lengthy court proceedings. A source tells Fox that APD officers across the entire department now are uncertain how they can do their jobs.
Andrew Mark Miller is a writer at Fox News. Find him on Twitter @andymarkmiller and email tips to AndrewMark.Miller@Fox.com.
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This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2022 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. Quotes displayed in real-time or delayed by at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Factset. Powered and implemented by FactSet Digital Solutions. Legal Statement. Mutual Fund and ETF data provided by Refinitiv Lipper.


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