AUSTIN, Texas — Austin police are facing new calls for accountability in the shooting death of a 27-year-old man two years ago this month. It is a case that sparked community controversy but resulted in no criminal charges against the officers.
Police Chief Joe Chacon confirmed to the KVUE Defenders that the internal affairs investigation in the 2021 death of Alex Gonzales is complete and that he is poised to decide in the coming days whether any officer violated departmental policy in the case.
“There is nothing more serious. To me, this is as serious as us investigating any type of serious crime that we investigate. We apply that level of investigative effort to these types of investigations as well," Chacon said.
A Travis County grand jury last month declined to issue any criminal charges against Officers Gabriel Gutierrez and Luis Serrato.
Austin police say the January 2021 shooting involving Gonzales started over a road-rage encounter with Gutierrez in southeast Austin. Gonzales was in the car with his infant son and widow when he pointed a gun at Gutierrez while at a stoplight, according to police.
Gutierrez was off duty at the time but shot and injured Gonzales.
After Gonzales pulled over in the southeast Austin neighborhood, on-duty officers arrived and repeatedly told Gonzales – in both Spanish and English – to step away from the car.
When Gonzales reached inside the car, Serrato shot and killed him. Gonzales’ family believes he was trying to check on his baby.
Police said they later found a gun in the car.
The shooting ignited controversy about how Austin police officers use lethal force – coming during a national movement of police reform following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and, in Austin, the April 2020 shooting of Michael Ramos.
“They didn’t kill him! They murdered him!” Gonzales' mother testified last week in front of the Austin Public Safety Commission. “I am not going to go away! I am not going away!”
In the coming days, the case will be reviewed by Austin's Office of Police Oversight and a citizens panel to make any suggestions about policy or discipline.
“They have an opportunity to offer an opinion to the chief about what they think should be done or shouldn’t be done," Chacon said.
In a statement immediately after a grand jury declined to indict him, attorneys for Serrato thanked the panel for agreeing that his use of deadly force was "legally justified."
Austin attorney David Frank, who represents Gutierrez, said the officers were put in an impossible situation that night because Gonzales did not obey "their simple instructions to show his hands and step away and reached inside the car abruptly."