AUSTIN, Texas — The lawyer for an officer involved in a deadly shooting in southeast Austin on Jan. 5 is asking the Austin Police Department and Travis County district attorney to not release body camera footage of the incident as planned on Wednesday.
Alex Gonzales, 27, was shot and killed in the incident in the 2500 block of Wickersham Lane.
Police said Gonzales cut off an off-duty police officer driving his personal vehicle. Police said the officer, identified as Gabriel Gutierrez, saw Gonzales pull out a gun and shots were fired. Gutierrez then called 911 to report the incident.
According to police, Gonzales began to drive away and Gutierrez followed him. Gonzales eventually came to a stop. Police said other officers who arrived on the scene began giving commands to Gonzales and, as he moved around the vehicle, he tried to open one of the car doors. That's when on-duty Officer Luis Serrato fatally shot him.
Both Gutierrez and Serrato were placed on administrative leave, per APD policy.
As of Tuesday, the video had not yet been made public. However, police said footage of the shooting was shown to next-of-kin, family members, attorneys, officers involved and City officials on Tuesday. The APD released the video Wednesday morning, which can be viewed online here.
KVUE spoke to Scott Hendler, the attorney representing Gonzales's parents, who were among those who watched the video Tuesday.
"I think when the citizens of Austin see the video tomorrow, they're going to be very disturbed by what is plainly depicted in the video. Alex Gonzalez was shot down for, frankly, no good reason," Hendler said.
Describing what he was able to see in the video, Hendler added, "The dashcam video clearly shows the vehicle at issue, which is Alex Gonzales's vehicle. You can clearly see that Alex Gonzales does not have a weapon in his hand, that he is disoriented ... is having trouble walking. Some might say he's staggering as he walks towards the rear of the vehicle, of his vehicle, as police are screaming at him to walk towards the rear of his vehicle and get on the ground. Instead of getting on the ground, he walks around the rear of the vehicle, using the vehicle to support himself, and then goes forward towards the front of the vehicle on the passenger side where his girlfriend is lying on the ground."
Hendler also said that in the video, Gonzales is shown beginning to open the rear passenger door to check on his son. Hendler claims that the top of a child's seat is visible from the dashcam video.
"Nevertheless, as Alex Gonzales bends into the car to check on his child, APD Officer Serrato opens fire and kills him. He has not seen a weapon. There has been no brandishing of a weapon. There's been no verbal threat. There's been no other indication to justify this shooting," Hendler said.
APD said in a January release that investigators located a firearm at the scene of the incident, but Hendler argues that it remains unclear if Gonzales ever had a gun.
"Not only does Gonzalez not have a weapon, or there's no evidence that he has a weapon, it's clear that he does not have a weapon. You can see both his hands clearly, and he's not holding a weapon," he said.
Overall, Hendler explained that he has a great deal of respect and empathy for what Austin police generally deal with, but he feels this case is an example of a lack of adequate training for police.
"I think that there are some fundamental systemic problems with the Austin Police Department in the way they're training their officers and in the way the officers are taught to respond to situations," he said in part.
The APD was working with the Office of Police Oversight and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to release the video to the public via its website on Wednesday. The department said video materials have been edited or redacted in compliance with state law that prohibits the release of certain information and “to maintain the integrity of the multi-departmental investigation.”
It said the edited video does include comprehensive footage of the officers’ actions and is intended to provide the community with additional context about the event.
On Tuesday evening, the attorneys for Officer Serrato released an open letter, asking Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon and Travis County District Attorney José Garza to not release the footage prior to a grand jury review.
“While we support the concept of transparency in our police departments and prosecution offices, it cannot occur at the expense of fundamental due process rights held by anyone, police officer or otherwise, involved in this type of event,” attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell said.
The lawyers said they believe releasing the video is counterproductive to maintaining fairness in the justice system and ensuring public confidence.
“There is an appropriate time for evidence to be released, but tomorrow is not that time,” they said. “You are damaging the legal process.”
APD is conducting two investigations into the shooting: a criminal investigation by the department's Special Investigation Unit in conjunction with the District Attorney's Office and an administrative investigation that will be conducted by APD's Internal Affairs Unit with oversight from the Office of Police Oversight.
Garza has said he plans to take all police shooting cases to a grand jury for independent review.
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