All three prosecutors were elected on a progressive platform to ease up on criminal punishment, especially on low-level crimes, while getting tougher on police to root out what they’ve called the bad apples.
Just one year into his term, Travis County District Attorney José Garza in Austin, Texas, has secured 29 criminal indictments against law enforcement officials, according to records. Nearly 9 out of 10 indictments alleged excessive use of force while on duty.
The largest batch of indictments came in February, alleging that 19 Austin police officers used excessive force during the Floyd protests in 2020.
Garza has also secured rare murder indictments for two Austin police officers.
His first indictment against a police officer for excessive use of force fell apart in a few months.
On Jan. 20, 2021, Austin police officers Chance Bretches and Gregory Gentry were both indicted for aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony under Texas’ penal code.
The incident happened in March 2019, when Gentry and Bretches moved to arrest two men believed to be engaging in drug sales in a high-crime area. One of the men resisted arrest before he was forcibly put into handcuffs and sustained injuries from the arrest, according to a police statement.
A prosecutor under Garza’s predecessor Margaret Moore got an expert opinion that considered Gentry’s use of force to be lawful. However, Garza’s office failed to disclose that opinion to defense attorneys, according to an official statement. By law, prosecutors have a duty to disclose to the defense evidence favorable to the defendant.
In July, Garza’s office dropped the indictment against Gentry.
On the campaign trail, Garza, a former public defender, said his predecessor had never charged an officer for an on-duty fatal shooting and vowed to bring all police shootings—and more misconduct cases—to a grand jury.
He credited part of his victory to the public sentiment following Floyd’s death.
San Francisco County District Attorney Chesa Boudin started to push the envelope of prosecuting police officers in November 2020 and charged San Francisco rookie officer Chris Samayoa with involuntary manslaughter. It was believed to be the first homicide prosecution against a law enforcement officer in the history of San Francisco, according to an official statement.
In December 2017, Samayoa shot and killed a carjacking suspect named Keita O’Neil who was fleeing on foot and had no weapon on him, according to prosecutors.
A year after the Samayoa case, Boudin’s office initiated a second homicide prosecution against San Francisco police officer Kenneth Cha. This time, the charge was voluntary manslaughter.
The incident happened in January 2017, when Cha and his partner, Colin Patino, responded to a citizen’s call complaining that Sean Moore had violated a temporary restraining order that prohibited noise harassment. When Cha and Patino moved to arrest Moore, he resisted. After a few rounds of struggles, Cha drew his gun and pointed at Moore who kicked one of the officers. Cha shot Moore twice in the abdomen. Moore died three years later from complications involving the gun wounds, according to prosecutors.
Since Boudin assumed office in January 2020, he has filed at least six criminal charges against law enforcement officials, all alleging unjustified use of force while on duty.
One case, that of San Francisco police officer Terrance Stangel, led to allegations that Boudin’s office engaged in unethical practices in handling evidence.
On Jan. 27, at a hearing for the Stangel case, district attorney investigator Magen Hayashi testified in court that she was pressured by prosecutors to withhold evidence favorable to Stangel. Hayashi said she honored the request out of fear of losing her job, according to The San Francisco Examiner, which obtained and reviewed the 123-page transcript of the testimony.
Former employee Jeffrey Pailet also alleged that Boudin’s office attempted to tamper with evidence on search warrants and fired him after he refused to play along. He filed a lawsuit against Boudin in November 2021 over the alleged illegal termination. Before his firing, Pailet supervised a team of investigators at the Independent Investigation Bureau, a unit dedicated to investigations of officer-involved shooting deaths and excessive use of force cases.
Boudin’s office denied the allegations.
Boudin, a former public defender and the son of incarcerated parents, was narrowly elected in November 2019 on a progressive platform. He faces a recall election in June.
Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx in Chicago drastically increased the number of criminal indictments against police officers in 2021.
In 2021, her office charged four Chicago police officers and one police lieutenant for excessive use of force while on duty. Another three officers were charged with off-duty criminal misconduct.
During her first term between 2017 and 2020, her office only charged one or two Chicago police officers per year, according to official records.
In the case of Lt. Wilfredo Roman, he was charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct—both class 3 felonies—for allegedly shoving a flashlight between a suspect’s buttocks.
The incident happened on Feb. 9, 2021, shortly after Roman and other police officers pursued and arrested a 17-year-old male for an alleged carjacking. The suspect kept yelling that his handcuffs were too tight. As a police officer was adjusting the handcuffs, Roman yelled, “Shut up!” and used his flashlight against the suspect, according to the criminal complaint.
Roman’s attorney, James McKay, said at the bond hearing that the flashlight was shoved over the teen’s clothes and didn’t cause injuries, according to Chicago Sun-Times.
Roman had worked at the Chicago Police Department for 21 years. He gathered 112 honorable mentions for his police work, according to official records.
Foxx was reelected to another four-year term in the aftermath of the Floyd protests in November 2020, despite rising crime. She said she would carry on her progressive prosecution agenda.