Police Seek Help Picking Killers from a Texas Crowd Austin police and black leaders appealed for community help in finding three to four people who beat a Hispanic man to death following a car accident in a crowded parking lot. The murder was witnessed by more than a dozen people, none of whom has come forward to identify the killers.
NPR logo Police Seek Help Picking Killers from a Texas Crowd

Police Seek Help Picking Killers from a Texas Crowd

A Family Mourns ...
and Seethes

Watching her battered brother lay on the pavement outside her home, struggling to breathe as he choked on his own blood, Margaret Morales couldn't fathom why someone would beat him so badly.

It's a question police were still trying to answer Wednesday, a day after David Morales was punched and kicked to death as he tried to defend a friend whose car had apparently hit and injured a child.

The driver got away and is cooperating with investigators, who are not releasing his name.

Margaret Morales said a young boy came to her door to tell her that her brother was lying on the ground outside. She found him sprawled on the pavement 100 feet from her townhouse, gasping for air. Her sister and mother came running after hearing her screams, but police wouldn't let any of them get close to him.

On Wednesday, Margaret Morales sat with her sister, Elizabeth, on her porch watching her 13-year-old son sob in the arms of two friends.

"I just want the people caught and brought to justice," Elizabeth Morales said. "I want them to feel the same pain that they caused my brother."

The Morales family remembered David as a caring brother who loved the San Antonio Spurs and was thrilled when they won the NBA title last week. Neighbor Earl White said David Morales enjoyed sitting on the porch, watching the neighborhood children play in the parking lot.

— The Associated Press

Police and minority leaders in Austin, Texas, are appealing for community help in finding three to four people who beat a Hispanic man to death following an accident in a crowded parking lot.

David Rivas Morales, 40, died Tuesday night after being beaten outside the housing project where he lived, police said. The murder has sparked outrage because it was witnessed by more than a dozen people, none of whom has come forward to identify the killers.

Police said the incident happened shortly before 9:30 p.m., when a co-worker gave Morales a ride home after work. The co-worker was leaving the parking lot when his car "bumped" a 2-year-old child, a city official said.

Assistant Police Chief David Carter said the child was not seriously injured, but the incident enraged three or four people, who started beating the driver. When Morales tried to intervene, the men started beating him. Carter said Morales' co-worker drove away without knowing that his friend was being beaten. Police said there were 15 to 20 witnesses to the attack.

Carter urged the witnesses to come forward. "We need the public's help," Carter said. "We want to bring justice to the Morales family, as (well as) to the community."

"My family is taking it pretty hard," said Elizabeth Morales, the victim's sister. "I'm worried about my mother. He's my younger brother. He was a loving and caring person."

Assistant Chief Cathy Ellison said the department will leave no stone unturned in trying to find the killers.

"This poor guy was just trying to help a friend," she said. "We're grieving along with the Morales family."

Elizabeth Morales said she is angry that it took so long for her brother to be transported to the hospital.

"They took 30 to 40 minutes. My brother was choking and gasping for air," she said.

Richard Herrington, director of Austin's Emergency Medical Services, said traffic from the Juneteenth festival and incorrect information given in an anonymous 911 call contributed to the delay.

Juneteenth commemorates the day it was announced in Texas that slavery had been abolished.

Hispanic activist Rita Gonzales-Garza said the suspects are all believed to be black men, but she said she does not believe the killing was racially motivated.

Richard Franklin, president of the Black Austin Democrats, said the killing was a despicable act of violence that had nothing to do with race. "This is an animal that needs to be caged. We must police ourselves and take them out of our midst," he said.

Community leaders are concerned the death could spark tension between Hispanics and blacks in the normally quiet central Texas town. Franklin said Hispanic and black leaders are planning a series of community meetings to talk about underlying issues that plague the minority community.

Hispanic leaders said Austin has relatively few racial problems, although minorities have a history of problems with the police.

Gonzales-Garza said the Justice Department's Community Relations Service began trying to conciliate racial problems between the Austin Police Department and the minority community earlier this month.

And Ellison said the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has begun an inquiry that will focus on the department's use of force against minorities.

Ellison, who was acting police chief until Thursday, said the department is cooperating with the inquiry.

Gonzales-Garza said she is hopeful that the Justice Department and the city's new, Hispanic police chief will be able to improve the relationship between the police and the minority community. The Austin City Council confirmed Art Acevedo as the police chief on Thursday.

Gonzales-Garza, who is central Texas district director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the Justice Department's involvement stems from civil rights complaints made by minority groups after the shooting death of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha, who was shot in the back by a former Austin police officer in 2005.

However, Ellison said the inquiry stems from a complaint filed by the NAACP in 2004.

Susana Almanza, co-director of the civil rights group PODER, said her group was among three organizations that filed a complaint asking for a Justice Department inquiry.

"With Mr. Rocha's death, he was the 14th victim to die of deadly force by police from 1997 to 2005," Almanza said. All but one of the victims were black or Hispanic, and they were all poor, she said.