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Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore will not bring two significant use-of-force cases to a grand jury before she leaves office this year, her office said Wednesday.
The move delays the prosecution of the cases related to the deaths of Javier Ambler and Michael Ramos, who both died at the hands of law enforcement officers. Moore previously planned to present both cases to a special grand jury in August. Last week, Moore lost the Democratic primary runoff to José Garza, who earned 68% of the vote. The seat is up for election in November, and Garza is favored to win in strongly blue Travis County over Republican candidate Martin Harry.
“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,” Moore said in a statement.
Jeff Edwards, who represents the Ambler family, told the Austin American-Statesman that officer misconduct is “too important to the community as a whole for politics to play a role,” referring to Moore’s decision.
“If the district attorney were openly committed to vigorously pursuing this indictment, getting an indictment sooner rather than later we believe is in the community’s interest and Ms. Ramos’ interest,” Scott Hendler, who represents Ramos’ mother, Brenda Ramos, told the Statesman.
Ambler’s and Ramos’ names have become rallying cries in Texas during the ongoing protests against police brutality and racial injustice that followed George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
Ambler, a Black man, died last year after Williamson County deputies repeatedly shocked him with a Taser. Before he died, Ambler told the officers he had congestive heart failure and couldn’t breathe. Ambler was unarmed, and body camera footage showed he wasn’t resisting the deputies involved.
Michael Ramos, a Black and Latino man, died in April after being shot with a bean bag round as he stood next to his car, hands in the air, shouting that he was unarmed, the Austin Chronicle reported. Ramos ducked into the car and had started to drive away when an officer shot him.
Moore said she directed her office’s civil rights unit to continue preparing both cases for the grand jury so they “will be ready to present to the grand jury as soon as the newly elected District Attorney takes office.”
Lawyers who represent both the Austin police officer and the Williamson County deputies said they were "disappointed" with Moore's decision.
"The grand jury will hear the same facts whether they’re presented under Margaret Moore or Jose Garza," attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O'Connell said in a statement Wednesday. "Delaying these cases another six months so that Mr. Garza can handle them is an abdication of responsibility and an affront to the involved participants who want a speedy resolution. If Ms. Moore had the evidence to secure any indictments, she would have already done so. This handoff makes abundantly clear that politics, rather than law, is dictating what happens to our police officer clients. That these are politically motivated prosecutions could not be made more obvious."
If elected in November, Garza said he plans to prioritize the two cases.
“Right now my focus is on the families,” Garza told The Texas Tribune in an interview late Wednesday night. “My heart breaks for the Ramos and Ambler families as they continue to wait for justice. I look forward to fighting for justice for them. It’s going to be one of my highest priorities.”
Mitchell Ferman contributed reporting.