Austin, TX – A Travis County judge recused herself this week from the upcoming trials of four of the Austin police officers indicted for aggravated assault of protesters during the George Floyd riots in 2020.
A grand jury indicted 19 officers in February and four cases were assigned to Texas State District Judge Julie Kocurek, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Kocurek was assigned to preside over the trials of Austin Police Officers Joseph Cast, Joshua Jackson, Stanley Vick, and Justin Berry.
Officer Berry is running for a seat in the Texas State House, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Kocurek sent an email to attorneys that announced her voluntary recusal from the case one week after Dexter Gilford, the head of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Division, filed an affidavit recounting a conversation with the judge about the cases.
Gilford wrote that he was disclosing the conversation because the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure requires the disclosure of any relevant evidence, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
He said in the affidavit that a member of his staff had contacted Kocurek’s court administrator to advise the judge that the special grand jury that she had empaneled had returned more than a dozen indictments against Austin police officers.
Gilford said the judge texted him the next day and asked him to call her, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
He wrote in the affidavit that he called Kocurek with colleagues present in the room and listening.
“Once Judge Kocurek answered my call, she said that she felt betrayed… because there were so many indictments against police officers,” Gilford wrote.
Court documents showed that Gilford told the judge that he didn’t think anybody in his office had done anything improper in securing the indictments, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
“Judge Kocurek told me that she believed that she enjoyed a good relationship with law enforcement in Travis County and that she believed the prosecution of the cases arising out of the Austin George Floyd protests were the consequence of a politically motivated campaign on the part of Jose Garza, the Travis County district attorney,” Gilford wrote in the affidavit.
The prosecutor said he told the judge that was not what had happened, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Court documents showed Gilford also reminded Kocurek that she had empaneled a diverse grand jury in terms of race, occupation, gender, and residence.
The judge alerted attorneys to her voluntary recusal in an email, the Austin American Statesman reported.
“I am recusing myself not because I have a bias or prejudice against the state, but rather to ensure public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” she wrote.
Kocurek also said that she had called Gilford that day to confirm that prosecutors wanted $1 bails for the accused officers, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
“I believe my impartiality will be in question by some in the community,” she said. “The perception of others is important, especially in cases like these.”
Critics have repeatedly accused Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza of having made it his mission to make an example by criminally charging as many police officers as possible, The Washington Post reported.
Officer Berry, who is running for Texas House District 19, located just west of Austin, told FOX News the indictments were political. “This has nothing to do with justice, has nothing do with any wrongdoing,” he said. “This is simply about politics and a political agenda that has taken place with these radical liberal district attorneys.”
Officer Berry said he and the other officers acted lawfully in their attempt to stop the violent riots as rioters threw frozen water bottles and other projectiles at them.
The candidate said the Travis County district attorney was using the indictments to strip local law enforcement of the power to enforce the law, FOX News reported.
“This simply about politics and a political agenda that is taking place with these radical liberal district attorneys,” Officer Berry said. “If they can’t defund us and get rid of us that way—now they’re going to try and de-police us by sending us to prison and indicting us.”
Officer Berry was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant.
The crime is a first-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, FOX News reported.
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said he respected the grand jury process but was “extremely disappointed” by Garza’s announcement, the Associated Press reported.
Chief Chacon, who was not chief at the time of the Floyd protests, said commanders had prepared officers to face hundreds of demonstrators, but thousands of protesters showed up and turned the demonstrations into riots.
The police chief described the scene as “riotous and violent” at times, the Associated Press reported.
“I am not aware of any conduct, that given the circumstances that the officers were working under, would rise to the level of a criminal violation by these officers,” he told reporters at a press conference held after the indictments were announced.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said in a statement that he is watching the officers’ cases to see if he needed to “take action to exonerate any police officer unjustly prosecuted.”