By Kelli Smith and Krista M. Torralva
Two Dallas police officers and one Garland police officer accused of assaulting demonstrators during 2020 protests downtown were indicted Friday on multiple felony charges.
Dallas police Senior Cpl. Ryan Mabry, former Dallas police Senior Cpl. Melvin Williams and Garland police Officer Joe Privitt face charges for their actions at the demonstrations, which were spurred by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
The charges drew sharp rebukes from some police officials and the officers’ attorneys, but others said the reaction to the indictment displayed an “us vs. them” mentality from law enforcement.
Mabry, 36, was indicted on eight felony charges — six counts of aggravated assault by a public servant and two counts of deadly conduct. He also faces three misdemeanor counts of official oppression.
Williams, 41, was indicted on six felony charges — four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant and two counts of deadly conduct. He also faces four misdemeanor counts of official oppression, one of which was from an incident unrelated to the protests.
Privitt, 57, was indicted on one count of aggravated assault by a public servant.
Mabry’s lawyer, Toby Shook, said his client was acting according to his training, under orders from his superiors and in accordance with state law.
“The indictments don’t come as any surprise to me because the district attorney’s office made their intentions clear that they wanted indictments. If the DA wants to indict someone, they can get it done,” Shook said. “It looks like they tried to charge Officer Mabry in every way they can to try to find something to stick.”
Williams’ lawyer, Robert Rogers, said in a written statement that Williams was called into action only once the protests “turned into violent riots.”
“His options were simple: Do nothing, allow downtown to burn and his fellow officers to get injured, or use the tools that he was provided and called on to use by his command staff to suppress the ongoing riots,” Rogers said. “He obviously chose the latter and now faces even more absurd criminal charges.”
Cody Skipper, Privitt’s attorney, said Privitt is the “epitome of a public servant” who fired a beanbag round in the direction of a demonstrator but didn’t hit him, adding that the indictment sets a dangerous precedent and Privitt was trying to “suppress a riot.”
”This case is [expletive],” Skipper said. “This man is a pawn in a political hit job. This is not even a case that’s provable.” He also said the demonstrator in Privitt’s case has been lying to investigators.
The indictments were the first handed up by a Dallas County grand jury stemming from the 2020 protests. The statute of limitations for several potential charges expires this month.
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot declined to comment. He has previously said prosecutors do not make recommendations to grand juries, but rather present the cases plainly.
Grand jury panels of 12 residents weigh whether enough probable cause exists to advance felony cases through the court system. Unlike in a trial, when a conviction must be unanimous, just nine votes are needed to indict. And grand jury proceedings are conducted behind closed doors.
Creuzot is up for re-election and faces Republican Faith Johnson in November.
Dallas police Chief Eddie García — who was not leading the department at the time of the protests — sent an email to his employees Friday saying it was a “difficult day for our department” but that he hopes a jury will judge officers “through the lens” of what they experienced.
“This process has been unprecedented, and through it, a negative light has been shown on you, the men and women who protect our city day in and day out,” the chief said in the written statement. “The message to the community, and to you, should be that in light of these riots and protests, there were hundreds of officers that were professional and did their duty to defend this city.
“I truly hope the same zeal is used to prosecute all individuals who commit violent crimes in our city, because I will be paying attention.”
To reporters, García expressed doubt that the officers’ conduct was criminal, though he wouldn’t go so far as to say he defended the actions of the officers in the videos he saw.
“Are there things we could have done differently? Absolutely,” García said. “I question as to whether or not the mistakes that were made amount to criminal culpability particularly in light of the chaos that they were under.”
Court records have shown that officers struck people who were backing away and didn’t pose any danger.
Mabry and Williams are accused in high-profile cases involving men who suffered major injuries, including one who lost an eye and another whose cheekbone was smashed by so-called less-lethal ammunition. Privitt is accused in a separate case involving both Mabry and Williams.
Williams was fired from the department earlier this year for an excessive-force accusation unrelated to the protests. Mabry is on administrative leave.
Privitt, a 32-year veteran of the force, was placed on administrative leave, Garland police Chief Jeff Bryan said. Flanked by about 45 officers Friday, Bryan gave a prepared statement over the course of three minutes and did not take questions.
He said he was “astonished and disappointed” by the indictment, adding that he authorized Garland police to help Dallas officers during the protests and they were working “under the most dangerous of circumstances.”
“I have not seen evidence against Officer Privitt that rises to the level of the criminal conduct that has been alleged by the grand jury,” Bryan said.
Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata criticized Creuzot for charging the officers when he said less-lethal weapons were used numerous times throughout the 2020 protests.
“It’s unconscionable to me to think that that tool was used over 200 times throughout all those days, but we’re going to look at specifically these two incidences, or three incidences, and say that officers used malice or intended to cause serious bodily harm?” Mata said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s ridiculous.”
Daryl Washington, an attorney representing some demonstrators who were injured, said the police response to the indictments “pushed the city of Dallas 10 steps backwards.” He said police should not be undermining the grand jury’s decision.
“I want García, I want Mike Mata, I want the attorneys for the officers — I want any one of them to show me just one officer who lost an eye,” Washington said. “Show me one officer who had to have surgery on one of his testicles and can no longer have kids. Show me that.”
He said García should’ve instead been questioning why it took two years, and a district attorney pleading with the public for evidence, for the accused officers to come forward.
“What do these guys want?” Washington said. “Do they want officers basically to seriously injure or kill innocent citizens and not be held accountable just because they’re trying to say they have a very difficult job?”
Jesuorobo Enobakhare Jr., chairman of Dallas’ Community Police Oversight Board, said the police response showed an “us vs. them” mentality when the demonstrators injured could’ve “easily been” an officer who wasn’t in uniform.
“They’re drawing a line in the sand and they’re protecting their own instead of using empathy to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” Enobakhare said.
He said police oversight officials plan to review Dallas’ protest policies to evaluate when officers decide to use less-lethal rounds and when they “decide to encroach upon protesters” instead of allowing them “free reign to protest.”
Williams, Mabry and Privitt were all charged with aggravated assault after a man was struck by less-lethal ammunition on Elm Street on May 30, according to court records. Body camera footage showed the man complying with police orders and backing away before multiple officers opened fire, an affidavit says.
The man told investigators that he was hit in his bicep, groin and thigh, the affidavit says. Williams and Mabry also face charges of deadly conduct and official oppression that case.
Mabry faces charges of aggravated assault, deadly conduct and oppression in a case involving Brandon Saenz, who has said he was peacefully protesting when he was hit in the face with less-lethal ammunition. He lost an eye and seven teeth, and the left side of his face was fractured. Mabry fired at a crowd, striking Saenz, after another man threw a water bottle at police, an affidavit says.
Mabry also faces aggravated assault and oppression charges after another person, who has not been identified, was struck in the groin with less-lethal ammunition. Body camera footage shows that Mabry laughed as he and another officer bumped fists afterward, an affidavit says.
Williams faces counts of aggravated assault, deadly conduct and official oppression after a separate unknown protester was struck by less-lethal ammunition in the posterior.
Williams also is accused of misdemeanor assault and official oppression in the shooting of Vincent Doyle, who has said he was peacefully protesting when he was struck by less-lethal ammunition. He was left with 40% vision in his left eye and a smashed cheekbone.
A grand jury declined in November to indict Williams in Doyle’s case, but the district attorney’s office later filed a misdemeanor assault charge — which does not require a grand jury’s decision.
Williams also has been charged with misdemeanor assault and official oppression in a case unrelated to the protests. Those charges allege he used excessive force when he was caught on video in July repeatedly punching a man in Deep Ellum. He was later fired for that incident.
Staff writer Catherine Marfin contributed to this report.