Sources: Protest probe leads to 19 Austin officers being indicted
AUSTIN (Texas) -- According to sources familiar with the matter, 19 Austin police officers were indicted by a Texas grand jury on charges of aggravated attack with a deadly weapon. They are accused of their participation in 2020 protests against racial injustices that spread across the country following George Floyd's death.
Multiple people spoke with The Associated Press on Thursday under the condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the case. Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday confirmed that 19 officers were facing criminal charges, but did not provide details.
It is one of the most indictments against a single US police department over the tactics used by officers during widespread protests. These tactics led to the resignations or ousters of many police chiefs across the nation.
The indictments were announced hours after Austin leaders approved $10 million in settlements to two protesters, one of whom suffered brain damage from a beanbag round shot.
Our community is safer when it trusts that enforcement will be done. Garza stated that the community trusts that law enforcement will follow the law and protect its residents. "Trust cannot exist if law enforcement is not accountable for breaking the law."
Ismael Martinez (a spokesperson for Travis County District Attorney) declined to comment on the number officers charged. He referred reporters to Garza’s comments.
The officers being charged have not been identified by the prosecution. Texas law requires that indictments remain secret until the officer is arrested. A public servant could be sentenced to life imprisonment for aggravated assault with a deadly instrument.
Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association called the move "devastating" but said that he is confident that no officer will face trial. He criticised Garza and called the investigation political motivated.
Casaday stated that DA Garza ran on a platform for indicting police officers and has not missed an opportunity to ruin lives or careers to fulfill a campaign promise.
Austin Chief of Police Joseph Chacon took over after Manley was fired. Chacon said he respected the grand jury process, but was "extremely disappointed to hear the district attorney announce expected indictments for his officers."
Chacon stated that his command staff was able to prepare officers for facing hundreds of people, but thousands showed up to protests he claimed were sometimes "righteous" and "violent."
Chacon stated, "I don't know of any conduct that, given the circumstances under which the officers were working, would rise above the level of criminal violation by these officers."
However, beanbag rounds shot by officers didn't always perform in the way expected. Chacon stated that his agency now bans the use "less lethal" munitions in crowd control situations.
Thursday's settlements are some of the largest for people who were hurt by police during the massive protests that followed Floyd’s death.
Justin Howell was 20 years old at the time he was shot by police with a beanbag gun. The Austin settlement is the largest. It gives him $8 million. According to family members, Howell sustained brain damage and a cracked skull in the shooting incident. He was left in critical condition for several days.
The city will also pay $2,000,000 to Anthony Evans. He was 26 years old when an Austin officer shot him with the beanbag round in another incident. This resulted in extensive treatment for his jaw.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler stated that the settlements "remind" him of a "real difficult and painful time in our city." A representative from the Howell family didn't immediately respond to a request.
This is the latest example of how two years ago, protests swept across the nation, cities continue to address the injuries and tactics used police. Two Dallas police officers were charged with injuring protesters after they fired less lethal weapons.
The Austin protests saw Chief Manley, the then-police chief, later stating that Howell wasn't the intended target. He said it was a dispute in a crowd in which people hurled objects at officers. According to authorities, that is what led to officers firing on the protestors from the top.
David Frost captured the moment Howell was shot on video and told the AP that he saw protesters throw fist-sized rocks at police officers on an overpass. Frost then saw Howell falling. Frost stated that he was in a severe state of bleeding and had a seizure.
These settlements are among the dozens of lawsuits that were filed in Austin claiming injuries due to the protests. The Austin American-Statesman reported earlier this month that a $150,000 settlement had been approved for Ariana Chavez. She was injured in a headshot with less lethal ammunition, resulting in a concussion.
After the protests, at least 19 people were admitted to Austin hospitals.
Eleven officers were disciplined after they participated in the protests of early summer, and seven more officers were placed on administrative duty.