It’s been nearly two months since the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a surprising, unanimous decision, recommended that George Floyd be pardoned for a problematic 2004 drug conviction in Houston. Gov. Greg Abbott, who has the final say, has been sitting on the recommendation without public comment since.
For those hoping the pardon will be granted, the governor’s silence has been deafening.
“I just don’t want it to die on his desk,” said Allison Mathis, the Houston public defender who put the request before the parole board. “Up or down, one way or another, just give us an answer.”
Abbott’s office did not respond to questions from The Texas Tribune about Floyd’s case. Mathis said she has repeatedly called and emailed the governor’s office without response.
Floyd, a Black man who grew up in Houston, was murdered in May 2020 by a white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck long after he lost consciousness. In the immediate aftermath, Abbott called Floyd’s killing senseless and reprehensible. He promised change and waved at a potential Texas George Floyd Act to prevent police brutality in the state.
Throughout the summer of 2020, however, Floyd’s murder continued to spur a new wave of protests nationwide against police brutality and racial injustice, and the Houstonian became a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement. Calls for widespread change to American policing included efforts to cut police budgets and shift law enforcement responsibilities to other government programs.
Quickly, Abbott pivoted to defending law enforcement funding and “backing the blue” while quieting on potential changes to policing practices. The state’s George Floyd Act, an omnibus proposal announced by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus without ties to the governor, failed early in the Legislature this year. Narrowly targeted pieces of the larger bill, like restrictions on chokeholds and requirements for officers to provide first aid, ultimately passed with widespread bipartisan support. Abbott did not comment on them when he signed them into law.
As the Republican governor continues hardening on the right while facing conservative primary opponents in his reelection campaign, people advocating for Floyd’s pardon believe Abbott’s politics are behind the delay.
“Is he planning to wait until the GOP primaries are over … when it’s safe?” asked Cory Session, vice president of the Innocence Project of Texas whose brother, Timothy Cole, is the only person in Texas to be posthumously pardoned.
Mathis has requested the governor clear Floyd of a conviction stemming from a 2004 arrest after he was found to have less than half a gram of crack cocaine. The arresting officer, Gerald Goines, said Floyd had given the drugs to an unnamed person, and Floyd ultimately pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 10 months in state jail. But since a botched, deadly raid in 2019 that led to the officer facing a murder charge, Goines has been accused of repeatedly lying or making up confidential informants to bolster his word against defendants.
The accusations led Harris County prosecutors to take a second look at thousands of old convictions connected to Goines, with potentially hundreds needing to be thrown out, according to The Houston Chronicle. By this June, four drug convictions had been overturned, with two men declared innocent by the state’s highest criminal court. Mathis said Floyd should also be pardoned, and the Harris County district attorney has agreed, saying Goines is not credible.
“[Goines] made up the existence of a confidential informant who provided crucial evidence to underpin the arrest and no one bothered to question the word of a veteran cop against that of a previously-convicted Black man,” Mathis wrote in her request to the parole board in April.
Aside from Floyd, only two other people have had Texas pardons sought for them after their deaths, according to parole board records. In 2010, Cole was pardoned by then Gov. Rick Perry more than a decade after he died in prison, falsely accused of a Lubbock rape. Another man had confessed to the rape before Cole died, but Cole was only finally cleared by DNA evidence in 2008.
Perry granted the pardon six days after the board’s recommendation, the board records show. He only did so after Abbott, then the Texas attorney general, gave the legal thumbs up for posthumous pardons.
(In 2014, the parole board voted against recommending a pardon for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for the deaths of his daughters in a house fire. After his death, the Innocence Project said debunked arson science and a paid-off jailhouse informant led to Willingham’s wrongful conviction.)
Still, Cole and Floyd’s cases differ significantly. Cole was cleared by DNA evidence, while Floyd’s conviction is tied to ongoing criminal investigations into Goines. Floyd also had pleaded guilty or no contest to eight other crimes in Houston between 1997 and 2007. Most were for low-level offenses like drugs, trespassing and failing to identify, but he was also sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to an aggravated robbery.
Mathis and Session said that they are not seeking to pardon Floyd of all the crimes, just the faulty one tied to Goines. When comparing Abbott’s behavior toward his brother, Cole, and Floyd, Session’s voice tightened with anger and sorrow. He remembered the then attorney general’s speech at the unveiling of a statute of his brother, and how Abbott said Cole would be a reminder to always pursue justice no matter how long it takes.
“Justice delayed is justice denied, and in this case it's being denied by Gov. Abbott,” Session said.