Few cases are of more legitimate concern to this community than officer-involved shootings. Beyond the lives that are lost— whether or not as the result of justifiable uses of force — there is ultimately the issue of public trust and confidence. That trust and confidence depends upon the knowledge that the investigation and, when warranted, prosecution is fair, impartial, transparent, accountable and competent.
During my campaign for district attorney, I was asked repeatedly how I would address concerns about these cases. It was clear to me that we need a process viewed as fair to all persons directly impacted by an officer-involved shooting — the subject officers as well as the persons injured or killed.
I considered instituting a practice of asking the courts to appoint special prosecutors in each of these cases. I ultimately decided against it for two reasons: It would not address the issue of public accountability for the resolution of these cases, nor would it provide the accessibility to information I deem critical to this community’s understanding of that resolution. I, the elected official charged with this responsibility, am the person most accountable and most able to inform the community.
Instead, I chose to form our Office’s Civil Rights Division, making it an independent entity reporting directly to me. The division’s duties for prosecutors include monitoring, reviewing, investigating and — when appropriate — prosecuting officer-involved shooting cases. The director for this division, Dexter Gilford, was chosen based upon his reputation and accomplishments as a person of the highest professional ethics and ability. He has been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. He is joined by Laurie Drymalla, whose expertise in these cases is well-developed and well-regarded from six years of work in this office on these cases. The two of them bring an impressive combination of new ideas and seasoned experience. They have worked tirelessly with me to envision both the practices of previous administrations that should be continued as well as new policies that should improve our efficiency and effectiveness. Their commitment to this mission and their integrity are unquestionable.
The Civil Rights Division attorneys will continue to respond to the scene of every officer-involved shooting. We will continue to have unfettered access to the investigations conducted by Austin police and Travis County sheriff’s office.
However, I am discontinuing practice of presenting every case where an officer discharged his weapon in the direction of a person to a grand jury. In cases where we determine there is no credible evidence that an officer has violated the law, I will decline to prosecute and issue a public declination letter detailing the facts, the law and the analysis supporting my decision.
This allows a more expeditious resolution to cases that cannot and should not be prosecuted, which: frees the officer from the cloud of potential prosecution; allows law enforcement to conduct its disciplinary review; permits the D.A.’s office to release information about the case to the public; and focuses resources on preparing and presenting those cases in which we believe either that a crime has been committed or that further investigation by a grand jury is necessary. The cases that we do present will go to a special grand jury whose sole purpose is to hear Civil Rights Division cases. We will also give that grand jury our prosecutorial recommendation as to the legal sufficiency of the case, as we do in the presentation of other criminal cases to regular grand juries.
To create further transparency and accessibility, we will publish the division’s procedures and protocols, hold regular public forums to explain our decisions and invite public feedback that we can consider in evaluating ways to increase our effectiveness.
I cannot guarantee the outcome of any case; that, of course, is dependent upon the unique facts of each incident, the applicable law and the individual perceptions of both grand jurors and jurors. I can, however, guarantee the process.
Moore is the Travis County district attorney.