AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas district attorney said Thursday it is highly likely that several Austin police officers will face criminal charges for their treatment of protesters who accuse police of violence and injustice. racism after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis law enforcement in 2020.
The grand juries meet in secret, and many details about the Travis County investigation have yet to be made public. But District Attorney José Garza said at a news conference that a special grand jury has concluded its work, and Joseph Chacon, the city’s police chief, privately stated that he is “deeply disappointed ” in light of the imminent news of accusations against his officers.
Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, said some attorneys representing the officers told the union that 19 officers had been indicted.
Discussion of the charges could begin to rekindle the divisions that pervaded the state capital in the days of violent confrontations. Several protesters were injured when officers armed with “less-lethal” weapons, such as rubber bullets and pea-sized bullets, confronted large crowds that blocked continuous traffic on the Highway. Interstate 35 through downtown Austin.
Mr. Garza, who has made investigating the officers’ actions a priority after he was elected in 2020, said the county review uncovered disturbing facts.
“We believe that many of the protesters injured by officers during the demonstration were innocent bystanders,” he said. “We also believe that the majority of victims in the cases investigated suffered significant and long-term injuries.”
At least 11 people were taken to the hospital after being hit with lead-filled pea bullets and fired from handguns. Brad Levi Ayala was shot in the forehead while watching a peaceful protest.
“It made a giant hole in his head – a huge wound,” said his brother, Edwin Sanchez, who said Ayala needed seven hours of surgery.
The sheriff at the time announced that the department would no longer use the beanbag ring in the crowdand on Thursday, city approved settlements with two protesters injured during the demonstrations. The lawsuits say Justin Howell and Anthony Evans were seriously injured when officers used “low-lethal” ammunition as a form of crowd control.
“There was an error here because no one was injured just exercising their constitutional rights,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement about settlements.
At his news conference Tuesday, Sheriff Chacon defended the response of his officers, who he said were often targeted by rocks, frozen water bottles and fireworks. The police chief said officers were required to “work under the most chaotic circumstances” in crowds of up to thousands.
“I believe that in many cases officers are simply trying to protect themselves and other protest participants,” he said. “I’m not aware of any conduct that, under the circumstances in which officers are working, would rise to the level of a criminal offense.”
Mr. Garza, the prosecutor, disagreed with that assessment. He said there has been a thorough investigation and said he anticipates that several indictments will be published in the coming days.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/17/us/austin-police-indictments-protests.html Austin police officers defended for conduct during racial justice protests