Gov. Greg Abbott Pardons Man Who Killed Black Lives Matter Protester in 2020

More than a year after a Travis County jury convicted Daniel Perry of murdering a protester in Austin, Gov. Greg Abbott pardoned Perry on Thursday shortly after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended a full pardon.

A Texas state district court judge sentenced Perry in May 2023 to 25 years in prison for shooting and killing U.S. Air Force veteran Garrett Foster during a 2020 demonstration protesting police brutality against people of color.

One day after a jury convicted Perry, Abbott directed the parole board to review the former U.S. Army sergeant’s case.

“Among the voluminous files reviewed by the Board, they considered information provided by the Travis County District Attorney, the full investigative report on Daniel Perry, plus a review of all the testimony provided at trial,” Abbott said in a statement announcing the proclamation that absolved Perry. “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.”

Abbott approved the board’s recommendation, which included restoration of Perry’s firearm rights.

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Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles pardon

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Gov. Greg Abbott’s pardon

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Whitney Mitchell, Foster’s common-law wife, said that she had expected to grow old with Foster before Perry murdered him. In a Thursday statement, she said Abbott’s pardon made Texans less safe.

“Daniel Perry texted his friends about plans to murder a protester he disagreed with. After a lengthy trial, with an abundance of evidence, 12 impartial Texans determined that he carried out that plan, and murdered my Garrett,” Mitchell said. “With this pardon, the Governor has desecrated the life of a murdered Texan and US Air Force veteran, and impugned that jury’s just verdict. He has declared that Texans who hold political views that are different from his — and different from those in power — can be killed in this State with impunity.”

Travis County District Attorney José Garza echoed Mitchell’s message about the governor prioritizing some lives over others.

“The Board and the Governor have put their politics over justice and made a mockery of our legal system. They should be ashamed of themselves,” Garza said in a statement. “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. ”

In a Thursday statement, the parole board said it delved into the intricacies of Perry’s case, by reviewing documents, police report, court records, witness statements and interviews of individuals linked to the case. The board did not elaborate on why it issued a full pardon. The members of the seven-person board are appointed by Abbott.

Perry was driving for Uber at the time he encountered protesters a few blocks from the Capitol in downtown Austin. He stopped his car and honked at protesters as they walked through the street. Seconds later, he drove his car into the crowd, Austin police said.

Foster was openly carrying an AK-47 rifle at the time and during the trial, each side presented conflicting accounts as to whether the protester raised the gun to Perry who was also legally armed. Perry shot Foster and then fled the area, police said. He then called police and reported what happened, claiming he shot in self-defense after Foster aimed his weapon at him.

The case caught the attention of influential conservative voices like former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi, who both pressured Abbott to pardon Perry saying he acted self-defense in the face of dangerous protests.

Abbott rarely issues pardons, which the board must recommend before the governor can act. Abbott granted three pardons in 2023, two pardons in 2022 and eight in 2021 — most for lower-level offenses.

Shortly after Perry’s conviction, unsealed court documents revealed he had made a slew of racist, threatening comments about protesters in text messages and social media posts. Days after George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer prompted nationwide protests, Perry sent a text message saying, “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.” Both Perry and Foster are white.

Perry, a U.S. Army sergeant, also sent racist and anti-Muslim messages before and after Floyd’s death. In April 2020, he sent a meme, which included a photo of a woman holding her child’s head under water in the bath, with the text, “WHEN YOUR DAUGHTERS FIRST CRUSH IS A LITTLE NEGRO BOY,” according to the state’s filing.

During his trial, several colleagues in the Army testified that Perry treated everyone fairly, regardless of race. His lawyers called Perry’s social media posts and messages as “barracks humor.”

“This pardon not only undermines the justice system but also sends a chilling message that politically motivated violence is acceptable. This decision is a slap in the face to the Foster family, the Black Lives Matter movement, and to all who believe in justice and equality,” Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, said in a statement. Reynolds serves as the chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

The court documents also revealed that Perry sent inappropriate messages to someone who claimed to be 16 years old through Kik Messenger, a communication platform that has been used to share child pornography.

“Also promise me no nudes until you are old enough to be of age,” Perry wrote, the same month he shot and killed Foster.

Before signing off, Perry wrote, “I am going to bed come up with a reason why I should be your boyfriend before I wake up.”

In his proclamation, Abbott took aim at Garza’s handling of the case and accused the district attorney of misusing his office. He said Garza directed the lead detective investigating the case to withhold exculpatory evidence from the grand jury.

Abbott said that Garza “prioritized ‘reducing access to guns’ that citizens may use to lawfully defend themselves” instead of protecting Perry’s right to self defense.

In March, Travis County voters handed Garza an easy victory in the Democratic primary after he ran on a progressive platform to investigate more sexual assault cases, prosecute police misconduct and attempt to divert more people from jail. He’s expected to be re-elected in November.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/05/16/daniel-perry-greg-abbott-pardon/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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