Police Chief Deposition Sheds Light on Daniel Perry Case, APD Shake-Ups
Strained relations between Austin Police officers, leadership at center of Joseph Chacon's deposition
A recent deposition by Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon is throwing light on the sudden retirement of Assistant Chief Richard Guajardo and on strained relations between police officers, APD leadership, and Travis County District Attorney José Garza.
The deposition, made public on Oct. 22, is part of a pretrial court proceeding in the case of Daniel Perry, the active-duty U.S. Army sergeant who shot and killed Black Lives Matter protester Garrett Foster on Congress Avenue in the summer of 2020. Perry is claiming self-defense in the killing but was indicted for murder in early July.
After the indictment, Perry's attorneys, Clint Broden and Doug O'Connell, released an affidavit from David Fugitt, a detective who worked on the case. It accused Garza of witness tampering – a felony – for not including all the testimony that Fugitt had hoped to present to the grand jury weighing Perry's indictment. State District Judge Cliff Brown later ruled that the D.A. had done nothing improper.
According to Chacon's deposition, Fugitt did not alert his chain of command before deciding to cooperate with Broden and O'Connell, a very unusual course of action. O'Connell, who boasts that he has represented law enforcement officers throughout his career – including several who've been indicted for using excessive force since Garza took office – is also acting out of character by defending a murder suspect, but appears to see Perry as a de facto cop, allowing him to wage a proxy attack on Garza and the criminal justice reform agenda writ large.
Whatever O'Connell's motivation, after Judge Brown ruled against his attempt to disqualify and incriminate Garza, he filed a complaint alleging that Chacon and Guajardo had threatened Fugitt and other officers with Internal Affairs investigations if they spoke with Perry's defense attorneys about the case. Though none of these claims have been sustained in court or by APD's internal review, O'Connell's complaint did lead to an independent investigation and to Chacon's 36-page deposition, conducted Aug. 27.
In it, Chacon admits to having been blindsided in early August by Fugitt's affidavit: "If I had to pick one detective on the department who's got the most integrity and professionalism, it's David Fugitt," Chacon told investigators. "This seemed very out of character."
Chacon believed that Fugitt might have violated General Order 935.4, which states that officers must notify their supervisors and consult with the city Law Department if they plan to testify as a witness or assist defense attorneys in any criminal matter. Fugitt's affidavit claims that he consulted with city attorney Chris Coppola, who works directly with APD, but Chacon says Coppola denied any such conversation took place. (Later in the deposition, Chacon's interviewer suggests that Fugitt may have had a conversation with Coppola about witness tampering and grand jury proceedings, but it is unclear if that conversation included talk of Fugitt filing his affidavit.)
Thinking that Fugitt had broken the rules, Chacon told Guajardo he wanted to open an Internal Affairs investigation on the detective. But then Chacon had a conversation with Coppola. This part of the deposition is redacted, so we don't know what Coppola told Chacon, but whatever it was, Chacon changed his mind, he says, and instead instructed Guajardo to have a personal conversation with Fugitt, letting him know an IA investigation would not be opened but directing him to notify his chain of command of any future conversations with defense attorneys. Guajardo reported back that he'd spoken to Fugitt and the matter was resolved.
But then, Fugitt's commander Pat Connor told Chacon that the detective had described to him a confrontational encounter with Guajardo. "Fugitt relayed to Connor that he felt threatened by how Guajardo was talkin' to him and by his behavior," Chacon said in the deposition. Connor "also told me that, um, apparently this played out in front of the second – the whole second floor, and the second floor of our headquarters building is all of our violent crime units." Connor reported that the detectives "have all lost faith in APD leadership" and that he believed Fugitt had grounds for a whistleblower lawsuit.
Chacon says this was the first he'd known of any misconduct by Guajardo; six days later, on Aug. 11, a meeting was held between Chacon, APD Chief of Staff Troy Gay, and the Law and Human Resources departments. The decision was made to put Guajardo on restricted leave. He surrendered his badge and gun and, on Oct. 13, announced his resignation from the force, though reportedly he's still on the payroll until he burns through his accrued sick time. An APD public information official told the Chronicle that there are currently no Internal Affairs investigations open on Guajardo or Chacon.
Austin Sanders contributed reporting to this story.