Texas Governor Pardons Daniel Perry in 2020 Black Lives Matter Protest Shooting

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Thursday pardoned a man who was convicted of fatally shooting a protester during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in the summer of 2020, fulfilling a promise he made last year amid pressure from conservatives.

The decision immediately followed a pardon recommendation from the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members are appointed by the governor. Lawyers for the man, Daniel S. Perry, argued that he had acted in self-defense against the protester, who was carrying an AK-47-style rifle.

Mr. Perry was sentenced to 25 years in prison in an emotional hearing last year in which prosecutors presented evidence of racist online comments he had made and said that psychological experts had found him to be “basically a loaded gun.” As the pardons board considered the case, lawyers with the Travis County district attorney, José Garza, met with the board to argue against a pardon.

Under Texas law, a recommendation from the board is necessary before the governor can grant a pardon.

“Texas has one of the strongest ‘stand your ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive district attorney,” Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said in a statement on Thursday. “I thank the board for its thorough investigation, and I approve their pardon recommendation.”

A lawyer for the family of the protester, Garrett Foster, a 28-year-old former mechanic in the U.S. Air Force, was critical of the governor’s decision.

“The governor of the great state of Texas has turned the rule of law on its head,” said the lawyer, Quentin Brogdon, who represented Mr. Foster’s mother, Sheila, in a civil action related to her son’s killing that she stopped pursuing after Mr. Perry’s conviction. “It’s a fair question to ask whether the governor is doing this based on the merits of the case or based on the politics.”

The case landed at the intersection of some of the most contentious issues facing the nation, including the protests over the killing of George Floyd, the proliferation of military-style rifles in the hands of civilians, and the legal rights of those who choose to stand their ground and open fire, rather than retreat, when they perceive themselves to be under threat.

Mr. Perry was an active-duty U.S. Army sergeant on the night of July 25, 2020, when he was working as an Uber driver in downtown Austin and drove toward a crowd of demonstrators.

It was there that a group of people that included Mr. Foster approached Mr. Perry’s car. Mr. Foster wore a bandanna on his face and carried an AK-47-style rifle on a strap in front of him. Mr. Perry’s lawyers said Mr. Foster had begun pointing his weapon and it was then that Mr. Perry opened fire.

During the trial, prosecutors showed evidence before the shooting of Mr. Perry’s animosity toward protesters on social media.

The jury reviewed video of the July 25 confrontation during their deliberations, according to an alternate juror, and considered the self-defense argument. But jurors ultimately voted to convict.

Lawyers for Mr. Perry had asked for a new trial, saying that information had been improperly introduced into the deliberations by at least one juror. But the judge in the case, Cliff Brown of the 147th Criminal District Court in Travis County, ruled that those actions did not undermine the verdict.

The governor used his official pardon proclamation to attack the district attorney, writing that Mr. Garza had not sought to see justice done but instead “demonstrated unethical and biased misuse of his office in prosecuting Daniel Scott Perry.”

“District Attorney Garza directed the lead detective investigating Daniel Scott Perry to withhold exculpatory evidence from the grand jury considering whether to report an indictment,” Mr. Abbott wrote.

An Austin police detective who had worked on the case accused Mr. Garza of withholding evidence that could have helped Mr. Perry.

Mr. Garza, a Democrat, is currently facing a proceeding that could remove him from office under a new law signed by the governor aimed at limiting the discretion of local prosecutors.

In a statement, Mr. Garza said that the governor and the pardons board had “made a mockery of our legal system” and that they “should be ashamed of themselves.”

“They have sent a message to Garrett Foster’s family, to his partner and to our community that his life does not matter,” Mr. Garza wrote. “They have sent the message that the service of the Travis County community members who served on the grand jury and trial jury does not matter.”

The governor’s pardon of Mr. Perry contrasted with his stance after the pardons board recommended a posthumous pardon for Mr. Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020 and had a minor drug conviction while living in Houston.

The governor took no action in Mr. Floyd’s case, and months later the board rescinded its recommendation.

His decision to pardon Mr. Perry lands in the midst of a new round of national unrest, this time on college campuses in opposition to Israel’s actions in the Gaza war. In Texas, Mr. Abbott has forcefully denounced the pro-Palestinian protesters who tried to take over a campus at the state’s flagship university campus in Austin and sent in state police officers to make arrests.

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