Austin, TX – The district attorney had to drop the charges against an Austin police officer after it was revealed that a prosecutor had withheld exculpatory evidence that would have cleared him.
Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza notified attorneys for Austin Police Officer Gregory Gentry on July 19 that it had dismissed the charges against the officer, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
“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,” Garza said in a public statement released the same day. “I offer my sincere apologies to Officer Gentry who undoubtedly suffered as a result of this process.”
Officer Gentry and his colleague, Austin Police Officer Chance Bretches, were both indicted in January on charges of aggravated assault by a public servant in connection with an incident that occurred in March of 2019.
Garza ran on a police accountability platform and those were his first two indictments of law enforcement officers, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
He has not yet dropped the charges against Officer Bretches, but as details regarding the unfair prosecution of Officer Gentry continued to come to light, there was much speculation that Garza’s first attempt to charge officers had failed miserably.
The incident in question occurred more than two years ago when Officers Gentry and Bretches were assigned to a narcotics detail, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Then-Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at the time that the officers had gone to take a suspect into custody and the man had resisted arrest.
“A significant struggle ensued as the officers attempted to overcome the suspect’s resistance, resulting in injuries to both the suspect and the officers,” Chief Manley said. “The suspect was transported to the hospital for treatment of his injuries.”
The Austin Police Department (APD) Executive Team, the Special Investigations Unit, and the Force Review Board conducted reviews and determined the officers’ actions were “deemed compliant with policy and training,” KXAN reported.
APD said it worked with then-Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore and “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.”
But things got rolling again after Garza took office, KXAN reported.
The Office of Police Oversight said its director, Farah Muscadin, “expressed concerns on the level of force used” to the department.
It complained that “both internal and external complaints were closed without any formal investigation” by APD, KXAN reported.
Garza said in March of 2020 that two “experienced” senior assistant district attorneys had “identified potential misconduct and brought it to the Office of Civil Rights Unit.”
The district attorney said an investigation was opened and the decision was made to take the case before a grand jury, KXAN reported.
Garza proudly announced he had secured the indictments in January, checking off his campaign promise to hold officers accountable, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
But he said last week that when he assigned the case to a new assistant district attorney in May, that prosecutor found previously-undisclosed evidence in the file that included an expert opinion that Officer Gentry had acted within police department policy.
Garza said the prosecutor who presented the case to the grand jury was no longer employed by his office, but did not reveal the former assistant district attorney’s name, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
NEW: Travis DA Jose Garza is dropping charges against one of the first Austin officers he indicted, saying that prosecutors have become aware of evidence favorable to him. “I offer my sincere apologies,” Garza said.
— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) July 19, 2021
Lawyers who represent both Officer Gentry and Bretches accused prosecutors of “selecting and presenting evidence to the grand jury in ways calculated to produce indictments” in high-profile cases involving the Austin police, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
“Today’s events confirm the one-sided and secretive nature of the grand jury process and its potential for abuse,” the attorneys wrote.