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Attorneys representing the Austin police officer accused of shooting an unarmed Michael Ramos, as well as several officers involved in use-of-force incidents with residents, say their clients committed "zero crimes" and blasted police and prosecutors for playing politics with body-cam video of the incidents.
The attorneys, Ken Erven and Doug O'Connell, strongly criticized a decision by Austin Police Chief Brian Manley on Friday to delay the release of police video of incidents during violent protests earlier this summer—in which some officers used less-lethal rounds in confrontations that sent two demonstrators to hospitals with critical injuries.
Attorneys for some of those officers, who have not been charged and are not being named publicly, said the body-cam videos would exonerate them of any wrongdoing they might stand accused of and illustrate that "leadership failures" by the APD leadership put officers "in extremely dangerous situations—that could have and should have been avoided."
"One critical factor in any analysis of the use of force during the riots is the fact that the Austin Police Department's leadership was completely unprepared for the situation," O'Connell said in an email to Austonia.
In addition to the officers involved in protests, the attorneys also represent Austin police Officer Christopher Taylor, who shot Ramos, later determined to be unarmed, while responding to a complaint about drug use. Officers have said they thought he was going to run them over in his car.
After the Travis County District Attorney's Office announced that the Ramos case would be going to the grand jury, police released the official video of that shooting. The video was going to be released in mid-June but was held up for logistical reasons until July.
On Friday, Manley delayed release of "critical incident" video in the protests, which presumably would show official video of protesters getting shot and critically wounded by less-lethal rounds fired by officers, with his office saying they were waiting on the district attorney to make its decision about whether to send the cases to the grand jury.
Neither case has actually been through a grand jury review, which will be done to determine whether charges would be filed.
"Chief Manley deciding to release video of the shooting of Mike Ramos prior to grand jury review, while simultaneously claiming he cannot release video showing officers using force against rioters because there has been no grand jury review, is complete nonsense," the attorneys' statement said.
The attorneys did not specify if they thought the video of the protests would help their clients, who they did not name. But in a letter sent to the police department, they said Manley and the DA are using the videos as a political tool.
"We know from representing Officer Taylor as well as officers involved in the riots that zero crimes were committed by any of these officers," the attorneys said. "Rather than doing what is right and announcing these findings to the public, they hide behind each other and blame a stunning election defeat to avoid further public criticism."
Manley has been criticized for officers' use of force during the Black Lives Matter protests at the end of May and in June, when protesters were sent to hospitals, the department banned less-lethal rounds during protests and members of the City Council called for Manley's resignation.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Margaret Moore, who had recently announced a decision to take the Ramos shooting to a grand jury, lost her post in a resounding mid-July primary election defeat by Jose Garza, who won 68% of the vote. Garza will face GOP nominee Martin Harry in the November election.
Shortly after her defeat, Moore announced that she would not schedule a grand jury for Ramos and instead would let the new DA oversee that and the case of Javier Ambler, who also died at the hands of police officers. Both were scheduled for grand jury hearings in August.
"The Ramos video release was never about transparency, and APD's "policy" of releasing critical incident video is a sham," the statement reads. "The real policy is to do whatever is most politically beneficial for the Chief and/or District Attorney in that moment, and today's announcement proves that."
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
People want 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 work.
— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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