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Friday, March 31, 2023

Austin Police Officers to Be Indicted for Conduct in Racial Justice Protests

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas district attorney said on Thursday it was very likely that several Austin police officers would be indicted on criminal charges for their treatment of protesters who were denouncing police violence and racial injustice after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis law enforcement in 2020 .

Grand juries meet in secret, and many details of the investigation by Travis County have not yet been publicly released. But District Attorney José Garza said at a news conference that a special grand jury had concluded its work, and Joseph Chacon, the city’s police chief, separately declared that he was “extremely disappointed” in the news that charges against his officers were forthcoming.

Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, said several lawyers representing officers told the union that 19 officers had been indicted.

The discussion of charges could begin to rekindle divisions that gripped the state capital during days of violent confrontations. Several protesters were injured as officers armed with “less-lethal” weapons, such as rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, confronted large crowds that intermittently blocked traffic on Interstate 35 through downtown Austin.

Mr. Garza, who made investigating the officers’ actions a priority after he was elected in 2020, said the county’s review uncovered similarly disturbing facts.

“We believe many protesters were injured by officers during the protests were innocent bystanders,” he said. “We also believe that the overwhelming majority of victims in the incidents that were investigated suffered significant and lasting injuries.”

At least 11 people were taken to hospitals after being struck with the beanbag rounds, which are filled with lead and fired from shotguns. Brad Levi Ayala was shot in the forehead while watching a peaceful protest.

“It created this huge gaping hole in his head—a huge wound,” said his brother Edwin Sanchez, who said Mr. Ayala required seven hours of surgery.

The police chief at the time announced that the department would no longer use beanbag rounds in crowds, and on Thursday, the city approved settlements with two demonstrators who were injured during the protests. The lawsuits said Justin Howell and Anthony Evans were severely injured when officers used “less-lethal” ammunition as a form of crowd control.

“Something went wrong here because no one should be injured merely exercising their constitutional rights,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement about the settlements.

At his news conference on Tuesday, Chief Chacon defended the response of his officers, who he said were often targeted by rocks, frozen water bottles and fireworks. The chief said officers were asked “to work under the most chaotic of circumstances” in crowds that escalated into the thousands.

“I believe in many instances the officers were simply attempting to protect themselves and other protest participants,” he said. “I am not aware of any conduct that, given the circumstances that the officers were working under, would rise to the level of a criminal violation.”

Mr. Garza, the prosecutor, disagreed with that assessment. He said there had been a thorough investigation, and said he anticipated that several indictments would be announced in the coming days.

World Nation News Desk
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