Austin, Texas – The Texas Grand Jury has charged 19 Austin police officers with aggravated assault with deadly weapons for their actions in 2020 during protests against racial injustice that spread across the country after the assassination of George Floyd, people say. question.
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 Cassidy confirmed that 19 officers had been charged but did not provide details.
This is one of the biggest charges against one U.S. police department for tactics used by officers during widespread protests – methods that led to the resignation or dismissal of several police chiefs across the country.
The indictments came hours after Austin officials approved the payment of $ 10 million to two people injured by police during protests, including a college student who suffered a brain injury after an officer shot him from a sack .
Altogether, the charges and hearings made up the liberal capital of conservative Texas at 960,000 people, who took some of the biggest action as criticism is still raging for him to handle the protests, which boosted pressure on then-Police Chief Brian Mancley to get him into the result resigned.
Jose Garza, the district attorney of Travis County, which includes Austin, spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon about the grand jury’s investigation, but did not give details, including how many officers have been charged and for what crimes.
“Our community is safer if our community trusts law enforcement. If he believes that law enforcement agencies adhere to this law and protect the people who live here, ”Garza said. “There can be no trust if there is no responsibility if law enforcement breaks the law.”
A spokesman for the Travis County Attorney’s Office, Ismael Martinez, declined to comment on the number of officers accused, and sent reporters to Garza’s comments.
Prosecutors have not identified any of the officers charged. Texas law requires that the charge remain a secret until the officer is arrested. For aggravated assault with deadly weapons faces up to 20 years in prison.
Cassidy, president of the Austin Police Association, called the move “devastating” for city law enforcement, but also said he was confident no officer would be convicted. He criticized Garza, calling the investigation politically motivated.
«D. A. Garza spoke on the platform to accuse the police, and did not miss the opportunity to ruin his life and career, just by fulfilling his election promise, “- said Cassidy.
Garza said his office prosecutes anyone who causes harm, “regardless of who does it.”
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacan, who took office after Manley left, said he respected the grand jury process but was “very disappointed” to hear the district attorney announce the expected charges to his officers.
Chacon stressed that his team had prepared officers for a clash with hundreds of people when thousands protested, which he said were sometimes “righteous and violent.”
“I am not aware of any conduct that, given the circumstances in which the officers worked, would increase to the level of a criminal offense by these officers,” Chacon said.
But the ammunition released by the officers did not always work “as expected,” Chacon said, and his agency now bans the use of “less lethal ammunition in crowd-fighting situations.”
The settlements approved on Thursday are some of the biggest payments to people affected by U.S. police during mass protests since Floyd’s death.
The largest settlement in Austin gives $ 8 million to Justin Howell, who was 20 when police shot him with a bullet. Family members told the AP after the incident that Howell received a skull fracture 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 out of a bag in a separate case that resulted in extensive jaw care.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the settlements “remind us of a truly difficult and painful moment in our city”. A spokesman for the Howell family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This is the latest reflection of how, two years after protests swept across the country, cities are still considering injuries and tactics used by police. Earlier this month, prosecutors announced charges against two Dallas police officers accused of injuring protesters after firing less deadly munitions.
After the Austin protests, then-Police Chief Manley later said Howell was not the intended target after a brawl in the crowd, which he said involved people throwing items at a number of officers. Authorities said it resulted in officers firing on a mass of protesters from above.
David Frost, who filmed the moments after Howell was shot, told the AP that he saw protesters throwing fist-sized stones and water bottles at a police overpass. Then he saw Howell fall. He had strong blood, and he had a seizure, Frost said then.
The settlements are the second and third payments awarded among a dozen lawsuits filed in Austin claiming to be affected by the protests. Earlier this month, The Austin American-Statesman reported that a $ 150,000 settlement had been approved for a woman named Ariana Chavez, who was shot in the head with less lethal munitions, resulting in a concussion.
At least 19 people were hospitalized in Austin after the protests.
Eleven officers were disciplined for their actions at the beginning of the summer protests, seven more officers were brought to administrative service.