AUSTIN, Texas – Police unions at the state and local level are alleging procedural misconduct within the Travis County District Attorney’s office.
Both the Austin Police Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT, are voicing concerns about how Travis County DA Jose Garza is handling cases, while the DA’s office maintains they’re just doing their job.
“We’re not making accusations but what we’re asking for is a complete and thorough investigation,” says APA president Ken Casaday, who referred to two cases in a press release Thursday. “So you have an ADA being told to destroy physical documents and now you have an Austin police officer being told to leave out major portions of their investigation, that’s troubling at best.”
One involved a former assistant district attorney who resigned after being told to delete emails related to a sexual assault case. However a spokesperson from the DA’s office and a legal expert FOX 7 Austin spoke with say those emails were essentially irrelevant to the case.
“There was a scheduling dispute between two employees and that got put in the case management system, that’s not Brady evidence that doesn’t make it more or less likely that the defendant committed the crime,” Jessica Brand, founder of The Wren Collective, said.
According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, the prosecutor is required to disclose “Brady evidence” which under the Brady rule includes any evidence favorable to the accused–evidence that goes towards negating a defendant’s guilt, that would reduce a defendant’s potential sentence, or evidence going to the credibility of a witness.
The other issue brought up by APA was an Austin police detective claiming he was told to leave evidence out of a presentation to a grand jury surrounding the death of Garrett Foster at the hands of Army Sgt. Daniel Perry.
“This claim is wild to me and straight out of the police union playbook,” says Brand.
Not only are grand jury proceedings required to be secret by law, says Brand, but “the way the grand jury operates is you don’t put on the whole case, that’s what the trial is for, in the grand jury the government is just trying to show probable cause.”
In a statement to FOX 7 Austin, the Travis County DA’s office said:
“The District Attorney’s office cannot discuss the contents of the grand jury presentation due to grand jury secrecy laws, however, the office disputes the notion that material exculpatory evidence was excluded from the presentation. Regardless of whether the information was presented exactly how defense counsel or a grand jury witness wanted it to be, the District Attorney’s office presented a thorough and balanced grand jury presentation consistent with its obligations under Texas Law.”
Meanwhile CLEAT, which represents police across the state of Texas, brought to attention an order issued by DA Garza back in March that says if the DA’s office reviews probable cause documents when a person is arrested for a crime and decides not to prosecute, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office should release that person.
“If Mr. Garza wants to change the law then he needs to be a candidate for the state legislature,” says CLEAT executive director Charley Wilkison, who adds this goes against the Texas penal code. “To decide to turn the justice system on its head and say, we’re just going to release these folks besides not making any common sense, it seems to be something that makes the public less safe.”
However Brand says prioritizing limited resources and not devoting valuable time to crimes like low-level drug offenses is in the best interest of public safety,
“It totally makes sense that a DA’s office would say we’re going to put our resources in the hard stuff,” Brand said. “And we’re really going to focus on sexual assaults and bringing those victims justice and not going to worry so much about the things that don’t threaten public safety.”
However after multiple complaints Casaday argues, just like APD has the Office of Police Oversight, “we demand the same of the District Attorney’s office.”
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