Local NewsAustin Police Officers Face Indictments Over Firing ‘Bean Bag Rounds’ During 2020 Protests and Riots

The indictments come two years after the initial incidents when protesters gathered en masse and tensions with police rose.
February 18, 2022
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On the same day, the City of Austin approved $10 million in settlements and 19 of its police officers were indicted — both stemming from “abuse of force” allegations due to the use of less-than-lethal munitions during the 2020 protests-turned-riots.

The exact charges have yet to be announced and will play a large role in determining the course of these cases — for instance, whether the alleged crime is tied to broader circumstances or the mere act of pulling the trigger regardless of protocols and directives from the department.

“The grand jury considering these cases has concluded its work…and we do anticipate that multiple indictments will be forthcoming in the days ahead,” Travis County District Attorney José Garza said at a Thursday news conference.

Details on the indictments cannot be disclosed until the booking process is completed.

Garza had been pursuing those charges after numerous injuries, some quite serious, occurred when Austin police officers fired bean bag munitions into the mass of protestors and rioters from which miscellaneous projectiles were thrown.

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One man was recently convicted of trying to fashion a Molotov cocktail during the frenzy.

Doug O’Connell, an attorney for multiple officers now under indictment, said that the munitions had expired — the “BBs” melded together forming a solidified mass, increasing the physical trauma caused — a fact that he said Austin Police Department (APD) leadership knew about.

One of those indicted is House District 19 candidate Justin Berry, a 13-year police officer. A spokesman for Berry told The Texan, “We cannot comment until the judge takes action, but we will be [making comment] and there is volumes to say when that time comes.”

“It’s an absolute disgrace, and it sickens me that DA Garza is using working officers as pawns in a political game of chess,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Officers Association.

Garza assumed office on a platform of heightening prosecution of police officers, and his office has been investigating the summer 2020 events ever since.

“I am not aware of any conduct, that given the circumstance that the officers were working under, that would rise to the level of criminal violation by these officers,” APD Chief Joseph Chacon, who was a patrol commander during the incidents, said at a Thursday news conference.

“As a police department, we asked our officers to operate in the most chaotic of circumstances in May of 2020,” Chacon said, adding, “and to make split-second decisions to protect all participants.”

“The size, scope, and tenor of the crowds was underestimated by management. Officers were prepared for hundreds, when instead they faced thousands.”

Chacon stated that at times the crowds were “riotous and violent.” He further stated that the weapons issued to the officers “did not all perform as anticipated,” and the use of less-lethal munitions has since been prohibited by APD in crowd control situations.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler responded to the indictments, saying, “The judicial process, now moving forward, needs to be respected.”

“Something went wrong here because no one should be injured merely exercising their constitutional rights. Our police department said, right after that weekend, that never again would we use such weapons for crowd control. I wish that city policy had been in place before this event.”

The settlements were paid out to Justin Howell for $8 million, and Anthony Evans for $2 million. Both individuals suffered injuries during the late-May, early-June protests that turned violent. Howell was struck in the head, knocked unconscious, and suffered a cracked skull after falling to the ground. He spent several weeks in intensive care. Evans was struck in the face by a bean bag round.

A list of the investigations pertinent to these indictments is compiled by the district attorney’s office. It reads:

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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