AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas grand jury has indicted 19 Austin police officers with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for their actions during the 2020 protests against racial injustice that spread across the country after the murder of george floydaccording to people familiar with the matter.
Several people spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly. Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday confirmed that 19 officers face charges, but did not have details.
It ranks among the most numerous indictments against a single police department in the United States for tactics used by officers during the widespread protests – methods that led to the resignation or ousting of several chiefs police across the country.
News of the indictments came hours after Austin city leaders approved the payment of $10 million to two people injured by members of the department of 1,640 officers during the protests, including a student who suffered brain damage after an officer shot him with a bean bag.
Combined, the charges and settlements amounted to the conservative liberal Texas capital of 960,000 people taking some of its biggest actions as critics still simmer over its handling of the protests, which has intensified the pressure on the police chief of the time, Brian Manley. end up quitting.
Jose Garza, the district attorney for Travis County, which includes Austin, spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon about the grand jury investigation but offered no details about it, including how many officers are facing. to charges and for what crimes.
“Our community is safer when our community trusts law enforcement. When they believe law enforcement is upholding that law and protecting the people who live here,” Garza said. have confidence if there is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law.”
A spokesman for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, Ismael Martinez, declined to comment on the number of officers charged and referred reporters to Garza’s comments.
Prosecutors have not identified any of the officers charged. Texas law requires an indictment to remain secret until an officer has been arrested. Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, when committed by a public official, can be punishable by up to life in prison.
Casaday, the president of the Austin Police Association, called the decision “devastating” for law enforcement in the city, but also said he was confident no officers would be convicted. He criticized Garza, calling the investigation politically motivated.
“DA Garza came forward on a platform to indict police officers and didn’t miss an opportunity to ruin lives and careers just to fulfill a campaign promise,” Casaday said.
Garza said his office pursues anyone who causes harm “no matter who causes it.”
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon, who took the job after Manley left, said he respected the grand jury process but was “extremely disappointed” to hear from the district attorney. announce the anticipated indictments of its officers.
Chacon pointed out that his staff had prepared officers to face hundreds of people as thousands showed up for demonstrations that he described as sometimes “riotous and violent”.
“I am not aware of any conduct which, having regard to the circumstances in which the officers were working, would amount to the level of a criminal offense on the part of these officers,” Chacon said.
But bean bag rounds fired by officers have not always performed “in the manner intended”, Chacon said, and his agency now prohibits the use of “less lethal ammunition in crowd control situations”.
The settlements approved Thursday are among the largest paid out to those injured by police across the United States in massive protests following Floyd’s death.
Largest of Austin settlements donates $8 million to Justin Howell, who was 20 when police shot him with a round beanbag. Family members told the AP following the incident that Howell suffered a fractured skull and brain damage, leaving him in critical condition for several days.
The city will also pay $2 million to Anthony Evans, who was 26 when an Austin police officer shot him with a bean bag in a separate incident, which resulted in extensive medical treatment to his jaw.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the settlements “remind us of a really difficult and painful time in our city.” A representative for the Howell family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s the latest reflection of how, two years after protests swept the country, cities are still dealing with injuries and the tactics used by police. Earlier this month, prosecutors announced charges against two Dallas police officers accused of injuring protesters after firing less lethal ammunition.
After the protests in Austin, then-police chief Manley later said Howell was not the intended target after an altercation in a crowd, which he said involved people who had thrown objects on a row of officers. Authorities said this led to officers firing into the mass of protesters from above.
David Frost, who captured on video the moments after Howell was shot, told the AP he saw protesters throwing fist-sized rocks and water bottles at the line of police on an overpass. Then he saw Howell fall. He was bleeding profusely and had a seizure, Frost said at the time.
The settlements are the second and third payments awarded among a dozen lawsuits filed in Austin that have resulted in casualties during the protests. Earlier this month, The American statesman from Austin reported that a $150,000 settlement has been approved for a woman named Ariana Chavez, who was shot in the head with a less-lethal ammunition resulting in a concussion.
At least 19 people have been hospitalized in Austin following the protests.
Eleven agents were sanctioned for their actions during the early summer protests, with seven additional officers placed on administrative duty.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the Austin Police Association President’s name to Ken Casaday. He also corrects Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon, calling the protests “riots.”
Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer Terry Wallace contributed to this report from Dallas.
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