Officer Indicted for Assault Now Suspended, Not Fired

It’s unclear if or when he’ll return

An APD officer recently indicted could be back on the force in the future, if recent history (2018) repeats itself (Photo by John Anderson)

In the euphemistic, alternate vocabulary of the Austin Police Department, the term “indefinitely suspended” usually means “fired.”

But in the case of Alejandro Gaitan, indicted by a Travis County grand jury on March 9 for excessive use of force during an arrest two years ago, the term has a literal meaning: Gaitan has been suspended from the department without pay for an unknown length of time. The department has not yet responded to messages from the Chronicle requesting more detail.

The formal charges against Gaitan are Aggravated Assault by a Public Servant, a felony, and two misdemeanor counts of Official Oppression. They came after APD’s Special Investigations Unit reviewed body camera video and officer reports detailing the arrest of Carvius Jackson in Southeast Austin in the early morning hours of March 12, 2021. The bodycam video of the arrest still has not been made public but reportedly shows Gaitan rushing in and beating Jackson on the spine with a baton as he is taken into custody by three officers. Reports say that Gaitan tased Jackson three times after he was already handcuffed. Seven months after the arrest, APD Chief Joseph Chacon issued 90 day suspensions to officers Katherine Alzola and Eric Perez for failing to intervene in the brutal arrest.

Following the incident, Gaitan was placed on restricted duty, but on Feb. 13, Chacon made the rare decision to suspend the officer without pay. Six days prior, Feb. 6, DA José Garza charged Gaitan via an unusual legal filing called an “information,” so that the DA could later submit the case to a grand jury before the two-year statute of limitations on the assault charge expired.

It is unusual for Austin’s police chief to formally discipline an officer under criminal indictment while the case is still active, but it’s not unprecedented. In 2018, former APD Chief Brian Manley suspended officers Robert Pfaff and Donald Petraitis without pay while they were under indictment for charges similar to those Gaitan faces. Pfaff and Petraitis were acquitted on all charges at a jury trial, but a few months later, Manley decided to fire the two officers anyways – not because they tased an unarmed man who was on his knees with his empty hands in the air, but because Manley thought the two officers concocted a false coverup story. The officers appealed their firing and were later reinstated, with backpay, following an arbitration hearing.

Chief Chacon is emphasizing that he and his team acted quickly on Gaitan’s case and have cooperated with the DA’s office. “Upon notification and review of this incident, APD immediately launched an internal investigation and on March 26, 2021, the case was forwarded to the Special Investigations Unit to conduct a criminal investigation,” Chacon said. “I respect the grand jury process and for that reason I made the decision at that time to delay taking further administrative action until the case could be reviewed by a Travis County grand jury, consistent with prior practice.”

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