A jury in Austin, Texas, has found Daniel Perry guilty of murdering Black Lives Matter protester Garrett Foster in the summer of 2020. In a case that has put Texas’ gun laws on display, the jury found Perry had not acted in self-defense when he drove into a crowd of people and fatally shot an armed protester from the driver’s side window of his car.
In July 2021, a grand jury indicted Perry for murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The case is unique because both people involved in the incident were armed. Lawyers for the victim have said Foster was abiding by the state’s open carry law while wearing an AK-47 across his chest. Perry’s attorneys said their client’s actions were protected under “Stand Your Ground,” because he feared for his life. Prosecutors said Perry “couldn’t keep his anger under control,” and instigated the confrontation by driving into a crowd of people. They also claimed he’d previously spoken about killing protesters — and how a person could get away with it by claiming self-defense.
During the trial, which began March 27, prosecutors showed the jury text messages and social media communications where Perry talked about killing protesters in the weeks before the shooting. “I might have to kill a few people on my way to work, they are rioting outside my apartment complex,” he wrote to a friend in June 2020. On another occasion he said, “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.” In DMs, according to reporting by the Austin Chronicle, a fellow gun owner warned him: “We went through the same training,” he said. “Shooting after creating an event where you have to shoot, is not a good shoot.”
After killing Foster, Perry told police Foster had raised the barrel of his rifle and pointed it at him. “I thought he was going to kill me,” he told police officers on body camera footage of him being taken into custody. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.” Witnesses refuted Perry’s claim that Foster had raised the gun, however, and a prosecutor said it was recovered with the safety on and no bullet in the chamber. “He did not have to engage with the protesters, Garrett Foster, or anybody else,” prosecutor Elizabeth Lawson said Thursday in her closing statement, according to the Austin Chronicle. “You cannot shoot and kill someone for walking up to you while exercising the right to open carry.”
Going forward, we could see more cases where the perceived threat of a firearm becomes the argument for attempting to justify a shooting, as the number of people carrying guns rises — especially those carrying them openly — according to Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law and author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America. “The law allows you to defend yourself if someone is threatening you, and a lot of people will see someone with a firearm and believe that person to be a threat,” he says. “That’s not to say gun carriers are always the ones who commit the crimes, but it leads to the possibility of more misunderstandings about someone’s intent.”
On July 25, 2020, in the midst of a summer of protest against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd, Perry, 35, a U.S. Army Sergeant and ride-share driver, was behind the wheel of his car when he turned a corner and drove into a group of protesters in downtown Austin, near the state capitol, according to police. Moments after coming to a halt among the 20 or so people, he fired five shots through the driver’s side window, killing Garrett Foster.
In trial testimony, witnesses disagreed about how fast Perry was going and whether he was intentionally driving into the protest or not. He has claimed he made a wrong turn, and one expert witness said a “laser scan” of the scene showed he’d slowed down as he approached the crowd. People who’d attended the protest, including Foster’s fiancée and high school sweetheart, Whitney Mitchell, said on the stand they heard squealing tires as Perry turned the corner and said they saw him speed toward them. “I remember seeing the car come very quickly toward us,” Mitchell said, reportedly fighting tears. “And it just jerked.”
After Perry stopped the car, some protesters slapped and kicked the car in frustration, according to testimony. Foster, a 28-year-old Air Force veteran, approached the driver’s side door and issued a directive. Foster was openly carrying an AK-47 across his chest, which is legal in Texas. Through the driver’s side window, Perry, also legally armed, shot Foster multiple times with a handgun before driving away. Witness video published by the Telegraph captures people running, screaming, and crying at the scene. “I remember Garrett saying, ‘Move on,’” Mitchell, who uses a wheelchair, said on the stand. “All I remember is hearing gunshots, and Garrett just falling over in front of me … and I jumped out of the [wheelchair].”
After leaving the scene, Perry called the police and turned himself in, claiming he’d shot in self-defense after Foster aimed the rifle at him. Austin Police Department officers questioned Perry and let him go. In trial testimony, a detective claimed he didn’t arrest Perry that night because he felt he “needed to do more investigation,” according to the Austin American-Statesman.
His sentencing hearing will be scheduled for a future date. Perry could face life in prison.