Austin/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on May 22, 2024
Austin's Top Cop Drafts, Then Ditches Clemency Plea for Convicted Killer Amid Abbott Pardon FlapSource: Google Street View

Interim Austin Police Chief Robin Henderson stirred the hornet's nest after it came to light that she had drafted a letter in support of clemency for Daniel Perry, a man convicted for the murder of protester Garrett Foster, but chose not to send it after city leadership discussions. Perry's conviction became the epicenter of controversy when Texas Governor Greg Abbott pardoned him, putting the Austin Police Department's integrity and the judicial system’s fairness under scrutiny.

In an unsent draft obtained by CBS Austin, Henderson argued that Perry, convicted in April 2023 for the fatal shooting during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest, had acted in self-defense and suggested his prosecution was flawed. "APD’s investigation showed that Mr. Perry had the right to be on the public roadway, in the incorporated city limits of Austin, Travis County, Texas, that he did not provoke an armed encounter with Garrett Foster or engage in criminal activity other than a traffic violation, and that he acted justifiably in self-defense," Henderson wrote. Her letter remained unsent, as Henderson said, "After discussions with City leadership, as is the standard in certain situations, I decided not to submit the letter," CBS Austin reported.

The Travis County District Attorney José Garza rebuked the pardon, accusing the governor of favoring politics over justice. In a highly charged response from the office to CBS Austin, they asserted, "although that evidence was available to APD, they did not investigate those facts, nor did the Interim Chief of Police attend the trial." The DA's office strictly maintained that Perry received a fully fair opportunity to defend his actions in court, but the jury wasn't convinced that it was self-defense.

Meanwhile, Chas Moore, Founder of Austin Justice Coalition, observed what he sees as a strong bias, telling CBS Austin, "For them to go out of their way again, for this type of person. I think speaks volumes about our police department." Moore's sentiment was echoed by Austin Council Member Vanessa Fuentes who criticized the drafted letter on social media, stating it "shows disregard for due process & is a slap in the face to our justice system."

This development comes against the backdrop of Governor Abbott's swift sign-off on Perry's pardon, a decision endorsed by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Confirmed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Perry, who admitted to shooting Foster while driving for Uber and claimed self-defense, is no longer in state custody. Despite the APD backing off from an official endorsement for Perry’s clemency, the unsubmitted letter revealed by KXAN casts a long shadow over the city's handling of the case and police accountability in the prosecution of violent confrontations involving racial justice protests.