AUSTIN, Texas — Soon after Travis County District Attorney José Garza announced criminal charges against 19 Austin police officers for their use of force in the May 2020 social justice protests, Gov. Greg Abbott turned to Twitter to condemn the indictment.
"In 2020, Texas experienced violent protests that wreaked havoc in communities throughout our state. In Austin, many officers were physically attacked. Those officers should be praised for their efforts, not prosecuted. In Texas, we ALWAYS back the blue," Abbott wrote in a 2020 tweet.
"If a Travis County jury finds these officers guilty, it won't matter to Gov. Abbott," Austin attorney Rick Cofer said. "If he wants to demand a pardon, he can do that."
Cofer said it is difficult to know whether Abbott could attempt to use his pardon authority for any officer convicted in future cases.
But Cofer said it appears possible after the governor's controversial pardon request in the case of Daniel Perry – and his statements about the protester cases.
Those statements also included what Abbott said immediately after the protest indictments: "Time will also tell whether I, as governor, must take action to exonerate any police officer unjustly prosecuted."
"Without a doubt, it is on the radar of officers who have been indicted by the district attorney that if they are convicted, it is possible – maybe even likely – that Gov. Abbott will request a pardon for them as well," Cofer said.
No trial dates have been set for any officer indicted in the protests, but in May, Officer Christopher Taylor will stand trial for murder in the death of Michael Ramos in another high-profile case against an APD officer.
Taylor says that he fired because he feared for his safety and the safety of others after Ramos got in his car and started driving. Prosecutors have said the shooting was an unnecessary use of force. Abbott has not commented on that case.
"Generally speaking, of course I am concerned about the governor's willingness to intrude on pending criminal cases, and I don't think anyone should have any confidence he isn't going to do it again," District Attorney Garza said.
Garza reiterated that he remains certain in the integrity of the local justice system – as long as it isn't influenced by outside political forces.
"It is impossible to predict which cases here in Travis County, which cases across the state, the governor may decide to intervene in," he said.
In a statement, attorney Ken Ervin, who represents many of the indicted officers from the protests and Officer Taylor, said: "We anticipate our police officer clients will be acquitted at trial. Should any of them be convicted, a pardon would be at the discretion of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Abbott."
"We would welcome their independent review and provide information as requested," Ervin said.
On Thursday evening, it was revealed that Perry had posted various messages on Facebook, Twitter and over text expressing vitriol for the Black Lives Matter movement and using racist epithets while describing protesters, as well as Google searching various degrees for murder, among other things. It is unclear how that will impact his upcoming sentencing.