Friday, December 30, 2005

Former Austin Police Department DWI Task Force Officer Indicted

A Travis County grand jury indicted three Austin police officers, accusing them of punching and using stun guns on a handcuffed suspect after a September traffic accident.

Officers William Heilman (a former member of the Austin DWI Task Force), Christopher Gray and Joel Follmer each were indicted on a charge of official oppression, a class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum punishment of a year in jail. Gray and Follmer are on restricted duty — Gray since Oct. 7 and Follmer since Dec. 9, according to police records. They are being investigated by the department's Internal Affairs Division.

Heilman resigned earlier this month. In October, he shot a man who refused to take his hands out of his pockets and repeatedly told officers to "shoot" inside a Northeast Austin home. The man, who was later found to have two knives, survived the gunshot wound to his cheek; a grand jury reviewed the case and did not indict Heilman earlier this month.
The incident that led to the indictments happened after a Sept. 21 traffic accident at 8224 Burnet Road involving Ramon Hernandez, 25, of Austin.

According to an arrest affidavit, which was based on the officers' statements, Hernandez began running from police when they asked for his driver's license and insurance.
Heilman found Hernandez a block away and the two got into a struggle, the affidavit said. Heilman was attempting to handcuff Hernandez when he said Hernandez tried to take his gun, the affidavit said.
"Officer Heilman then tazed Hernandez several times, but this had no effect on Hernandez," according to the affidavit.
Other officers then arrived to help Heilman, and the arrest was captured on patrol car video cameras.
According to the indictments, Follmer and Gray both hit Hernandez while he was handcuffed and Heilman and Gray used their Taser stun guns on Hernandez while he was handcuffed.
Hernandez was taken to Brackenridge Hospital before being booked into the Travis County Jail. He was charged with assault on a public servant and attempting to take a weapon from a police officer, both third-degree felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The grand jury today declined to indict Hernandez on those charges. He could not be reached for comment.
Police today said that a routine review of the incident by supervisors showed that the officers may have violated policies — including the use of force on a handcuffed suspect — and that the review led to further investigation by internal affairs, the department's Integrity Crimes Unit and the Travis County District Attorney's office.
Each of the officers is white; Hernandez is Hispanic. Heilman was on the force for four years, Gray is a six-year veteran and Follmer joined the department in July.