Outgoing District Attorney Postpones Police Cases Until January

Is justice delayed justice denied?

Margaret Moore (l) and José Garza at the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association candidate forum earlier this year (Photos by Jana Birchum)

In a July 22 statement, outgoing District Attorney Margaret Moore's office announced that the Mike Ramos and Javier Ambler police homicide cases will not be presented to a grand jury until January, when the newly elected D.A. – almost certain to be José Garza, who defeated Moore in the July 14 primary run-off – will take office. (He does face GOP nominee Martin Harry in November.)

"The voters of Travis County have spoken," the statement read. "By overwhelmingly supporting a candidate for District Attorney who ran on a platform of changing how officer-­involved shooting cases are prosecuted, I believe the community has clearly stated it would like to see the new administration oversee the prosecution of these cases from beginning to end."

The statement comes after continued calls from the community for justice; Moore explicitly requested in late June for Austin police Chief Brian Manley not to take any disciplinary action against the officers involved in the Mike Ramos shooting until the case is brought to a grand jury. Manley also deferred to Moore's request when he temporarily withheld release of the "critical incident" video of the Ramos shooting; that footage was released Monday. The case of Javier Ambler, who died in custody after being repeatedly shocked with a Taser by Williamson County deputies who'd chased him into Travis – with cameras from the now-canceled Live PD TV series in tow – has been awaiting action from Moore's office for more than a year.

"My heart continues to break for the Ramos and Ambler families as they have continued to wait for justice," said Garza in response. "I look forward to fighting for justice for both families. It will be my highest priority." The attorneys for Christopher Taylor, the officer who shot Ramos, expressed frustration at what they see as a politically motivated delay and said in a statement that their main focus is "a speedy resolution ... If Ms. Moore had the evidence to secure any indictments, she would have already done so."

Moore's office noted "the possible pain and discomfort to the families of Mr. Ambler and Mr. Ramos" but maintained that the delay was "the responsible thing to do." Chris Harris, criminal justice project director for Texas Appleseed, says Moore's decision "raises serious questions about whether or not she ever intended to follow through with these cases or if those were just campaign promises ... Justice delayed is justice denied."

Harris expressed distrust in the criminal justice system more broadly, doubting that Garza or anyone in the D.A.'s role can make significant changes to how prosecution of use-of-force cases is done, especially considering this six-month delay, which will make them more difficult to prosecute given stale evidence. Garza's bold vision of restructuring the D.A.'s Office will also take some time, and if the Ramos and Ambler cases are indeed his priority in January, he will likely be working with Moore's Civil Rights Unit, which per her statement will "continue preparing these cases for grand jury as if they were going to present the cases themselves."

Chas Moore, founder of Austin Justice Coalition, agreed that "the system is still the system, it kinda moves and works the way it does. But José brings in the spirit of this time and moment and movement that we're in, so I think the fight is gonna be different ... The way I look at this is two sides, right? Yes, the community wants this thing to be resolved as soon as possible. But if there's a lack of trust in the community with the current D.A. ... then I think it makes sense to wait until we get the new person in there."

The current office's track record supports that theory; Moore's office hasn't indicted any officer in a use-of-force case since 2015, and according to the landslide 36-point victory margin that Garza enjoyed in the July 14 election, the community trusts him to prosecute those cases more successfully, even if he faces structural obstacles getting there. Says Moore, "My grandma's from Louisiana, and as bad as you want that gumbo, you gotta take your time and cook the roux right. [Because if] you rush it, you burn it and it's done. You have to start all over."

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Margaret Moore, Mike Ramos, Javier Ambler, José Garza, Brian Manley, Civil Rights Unit, Chris Harris, Chas Moore

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