Family of Man Killed by APD Sues the City
Ajay Griffin did not point a gun at officers, attorneys claim
Attorneys representing the mother and sisters of Aquantis "Ajay" Griffin, who was shot and killed by Austin police two years ago, have filed a wrongful death suit against the city and the eight officers involved, alleging excessive force.
In the early hours of Aug. 17, 2018, APD responded to a shots-fired call near Sixth Street and San Jacinto. A fight had broken out inside of Terminal 6 bar, where Griffin, who had traveled to Austin from his home in Baton Rouge, was attending a concert performed by a childhood friend.
The fight moved outside, and Griffin formed his hands into the shape of a gun, pretending to fire at the crowd, causing some of them to disperse, according to Louisiana attorney Garrett Condon, who is representing Griffin's mother, Shalitha Ross. In response, another participant in the dispute, Jordan Seguin (who was later arrested), fired shots above the crowd, including toward Griffin. The attorneys representing Griffin's mother say the 21-year-old was unarmed when he fled the scene but came into possession of a firearm before returning to the scene and encountering officers who were positioned in an alleyway outside of the bar.
As Griffin was running toward the officers, they opened fire on him, ultimately hitting him with 30 bullets. A ninth officer also shot Griffin with a stun gun. Griffin was taken to Dell Seton Medical Center, where he later died from his wounds. Bystander video obtained by the Chronicle corroborates this part of the story; the video, posted by a Facebook user, appears to show Griffin falling to the ground after the first gunshots. Then, as he is lying motionless on the ground, a barrage of rounds rings out.
At the time, the shooting was portrayed by APD as justifiable – Griffin was holding a gun and didn't drop it on command. During a media briefing following the shooting, Assistant Chief Troy Gay told reporters, "I was able to view several of the videos" from surveillance and body-worn cameras, "and you can see, in one of the videos, the individual's weapon points toward the directions of the officers."
But after reviewing some of the body-worn camera footage in May 2019, Condon called this account into question. In a letter to Dexter Gilford, director of the Travis County District Attorney's Civil Rights Division, Condon wrote that Griffin didn't point his gun at any of the officers in a threatening manner. As Griffin was running, he turned toward them, causing his arm holding the gun to swing toward the officers in a "natural movement." Instead of firing, Condon wrote, Griffin turned to flee from the officers, after which they opened fire.
Condon wrote that after Griffin had been struck once or twice, he threw down the weapon, which the footage shows skidding toward the officers. At that point, "rather than arresting him and giving him a chance at his life," Condon's letter continues, "the officers then fired somewhere in the order of 25 to 30 additional shots at [Griffin] – with his back to them, lying face down on the ground, and disarmed."
No footage from the incident has been released to the public, and the D.A.'s Office continues its review of the case. The eight officers were placed on paid administrative leave at the time, as is standard procedure, but it is unclear when they returned to regular duty. At least one returned to active duty: Joseph Cast went on to be one of three officers involved in the fatal shooting of Mauris DeSilva, who was undergoing a mental health crisis, in July 2019. (Another of the officers in the DeSilva shooting, Christopher Taylor, went on to fire the shots that killed Mike Ramos this past April.)*
Austin attorneys Rebecca Webber and Scott Hendler are now working with Condon on the case. APD officials did not respond to questions from the Chronicle, but a city spokesperson said, "We are aware of the lawsuit and will respond appropriately."
* Editor's note: This story has been edited since publication to clarify Christopher Taylor's involvement in the shootings.