Federal probe urged of Black Lives Matter protest killing after Texas pardon

FILE PHOTO: The National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Dallas

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) - The attorneys general of more than a dozen states urged the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday to open a federal criminal civil rights probe into the shooting death of a Black Lives Matter protester whose killer was pardoned two weeks ago by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

In their letter calling for an investigation, the attorneys general, all of them Democrats, challenged the propriety of the Texas "stand your ground" law cited by Abbott, a Republican, as the basis for his act of clemency.

Abbott granted a full pardon on May 16 to Daniel Perry, a former U.S. Army sergeant and Uber driver who was convicted last year of murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison for fatally shooting Garrett Foster, a U.S. Air Force veteran, in July 2020.

Foster, 28, was taking part in a Black Lives Matter rally in Austin, the state capital, and was legally carrying an AK-47 rifle, when Perry, armed with a pistol, turned his car onto a street where demonstrators were marching.

Foster was "exercising his First Amendment right to protest, as part of broader protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the summer of 2020," the attorneys general wrote.

Perry, who was 37 at the time, insisted he was acting in self-defense and opened fire because Foster took aim at him with his AK-47.

Foster was white, as is Perry.

The trial presented conflicting accounts of whether Foster actually leveled his rifle at Perry, and jurors ultimately sided against the defendant. Prosecutors asserted that Foster approached Perry's car in an attempt to protect his fellow protesters, believing Perry might assault them with his vehicle.

In his pardon proclamation, Abbott said the jury's guilty verdict in effect nullified the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law, which removes a person's duty to retreat from an unprovoked threat of violence before resorting to deadly force if that person has a right to be in that place.

The attorneys general of 13 states and Washington, D.C., countered in their letter that such statutes "encourage vigilantes to attend protests armed and ready to shoot and kill."

They also pointed to evidence showing Perry's deadly encounter came after he had searched the internet for the location of protests and "sent a text message saying he was considering traveling to another city to 'shoot looters.'"

"The Department of Justice plays an important role in ensuring that those who violate the civil rights of their fellow Americans are held to account, and that is especially the case when state or local jurisdictions refuse to do so," the AGs said in their letter, addressed to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Abbott's office did not immediately respond to Reuters' request seeking comment on the letter.

The letter was signed by the attorneys general of Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Vermont, as well as Washington, D.C.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)