Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Federal lawsuit costs city $500,000 in legal defense for officers who killed Alex Gonzales

Carla Garcia Leija

Austin City Council allocated half a million dollars on Thursday to the legal defense of the police officers who killed a man in 2021.

On Jan. 5, 2021, off-duty officer Gabriel Gutierrez from the Austin Police Department fired eight shots at Alex Gonzales Jr., claiming afterward that Gonzales cut him off and pointed a gun at him. Officer Luis Serrato responded to the scene, shooting Gonzales ten more times when he reached into the backseat against officer orders, likely to check on his infant, according to the Office of Police Oversight.

In Dec. 2022, a grand jury did not indict Gutierrez or Serrato for the shooting. Joseph Chacon, the police chief at the time, did not discipline the officers, stating Gutierrez acted as a private citizen and Serrato acted within policy, contrary to the OPO recommendation. 

The Gonzales family and activist groups, such as the Austin Justice Coalition, said the city is suppressing police oversight policies that could decrease misconduct and city expenses. Police misconduct cases cost Austin $73 million in labor, legal fees and settlements in the past decade, according to an outside report by New York-based consultants, Kroll Associates.

“They’re gonna spend $500,000 to save a million, to save two million, when that money could just go to that family that’s been harmed,” said Chris Harris, Austin Justice Coalition policy director and equity action board president.

Elizabeth Gonzales, the mother of Gonzales Jr., said she wants compensation for her son’s death as well.

“I urge you to stand with me in calling for the Office of Police Oversight and APD to take a second hard look at this case,” Gonzales said at a recent press conference. “We demand honesty and transparency from APD.”

Gonzales is suing the city for $18 million in damages, a million for every bullet fired at her son. The family does not plan on settling out of court.

The city is paying for Gutierrez’s legal defense, which is required for when police act while on duty, according to state law. In a Jan. 2023 statement, the city said Gutierrez “acted as a private citizen” and “was not in a police vehicle or uniform” when he shot Alex Gonzales Jr. 

The city responded with the following statement in response to why they are paying for the defense if Gutierrez acted off-duty: 

“State law mandates that police officers receive legal representation for civil actions that are brought against (them) for actions (they took) while (acting) as law enforcement officers,” the statement said. “Generally, the City’s in-house lawyers represent police officers in a civil lawsuit. If the City Attorney is unable to represent the officer based upon a conflict, state law mandates that the City pay for separate legal representation.”

Gonzales, backed by the Austin Justice Coalition, is pressuring the city to release APD’s internal investigation file, which keeps investigative records private from city officials and the public, and to implement police oversight policies that prevent misconduct and costs to the city. However, Harris said the city and the police union have stalled or rebuffed many of the policies supported by Austin voters with the passing of the Austin Police Oversight Act in May 2023.

“I want a family like Elizabeth’s to get every nickel,” Harris said. “Then, I want those cases to go down, so there aren’t future cases like Liz, and those public dollars can get used on things that actually help everybody in the city.”

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