Abbott Faces Potential High-Risk Wager
with Cashing In on Austin Cop Arrests

Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside
January 23, 2021

A video that Austin police have been keeping under wraps could be a game-changer in Governor Greg Abbott's push to punish cities that cut conventional spending on local law enforcement as part of criminal justice reform efforts.

The governor's so-called Back the Blue proposal looked like a smart bed in a Texas Legislature that's controlled by Republicans who've appeared to be afraid of doing anything that could alienate Donald Trump and the dangerous fringe elements in his base. Abbott's plan has appeared up to now to be a potential slam dunk in the making at the statehouse despite an array of questions on its worth, motives and credibility of a sales pitch that's revolved on fear tactics and unsubstantiated claims.

But Abbott could find his signature proposal for the 2021 regular session on thinner ice than he'd anticipated as a consequence of criminal charges that two Austin police officers are facing after their arrests on Friday in connection with the alleged beating of a black man who they'd sought to question about drug dealing two years ago.

A Travis County grand jury indicted Austin officers Chance Bretches and Gregory Gentrye on charges of aggravated assault by a public servant in a case that their superiors had closed after an internal investigation found that they'd done nothing wrong. Newly-elected District Attorney Jose Garza resurrected the case after taking office this month after campaigning for the job on a vow to pursue police brutality.

The Austin Police Association expressed outrage with the developments - contending that the progressive new prosecutor had been using its members as pawns in a "delusional game of political chess" with the reopening of the case.

Abbott could find himself in a more precarious position, however, if he attempts to capitalize on the firestorm that Garza has ignited in his first month as DA. Abbott could be tempted initially to seize on the furor as a way to showcase assertions that liberal Democrats in Austin transformed the city into one of the nation's most dangerous places with a vote in August to defund the police.

But the governor could be playing with dynamite if he hasn't had a chance to watch the confrontation that had been captured on a video that police officials here have yet to make public and apparently hadn't acknowledged until now based on news reports.

Garza is urging Austin Police Chief Brian Manley to release the video for the sake of giving the people here a chance to determine if they think that the officers acted appropriately or violated the law with the use of excessive force. Abbott's attempts to capitalize on the tempest could backfire if the video proved to be incriminating for the individual officers and the officials who'd reviewed and dismissed the original case.

While the Abbott plan would apply to the entire state, Austin appears to be the only city that would actually be affected. The governor has staked the proposal on a singular piece of evidence with claims that the city council put the public in grave danger with a vote last summer to defund the police. Democratic local leaders here made a minimal attempt to rebuke the false portrayal of Austin where the rate of violent crime is relatively low and residents feel as safe now as ever.

Abbott might feel certain that Republican majorities at the Capitol will fall in line without dissent as a result of the police spending defense proposal's symbolic implications regardless of whether the central narrative on which it's based has been wildly deceptive or honest to a fault.

The video that remains in the custody of the Austin police could have bombshell potential nonetheless as far as the governor's public relations campaign for the legislation and the potential for its derailing are concerned.




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