19 Austin officers indicted, $10M in settlements approved over 2020 protest injuries
Nineteen Austin police officers were indicted by a grand jury on Thursday after allegedly using excessive force during 2020 protests in the Texas city, and the Austin City Council the same day approved settlements for a combined $10 million with two men injured during the protests.
The Austin American-Statesman said the number of indictments is likely one of the largest actions taken against a police department in the country in response to the 2020 protests against police brutality. Police were considering charges for as many as 21 officers, according to the outlet.
Travis County District Attorney José Garza said at a news conference recorded by local affiliate Fox 7 that some protesters injured in the clashes may “never fully recover.”
“We believe many protesters injured by law enforcement officers during the protests were innocent bystanders,” Garza said. “We also believe the overwhelming majority of victims, in the incidents that were investigated, suffered significant and lasting injuries.”
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said he respects the grand jury process but was “disappointed” to hear the news of the indictments.
“As a department, we asked these officers to work under the most chaotic of circumstances in May 2020, and to make split second decisions to protect all participants. I am not aware of any conduct that, given the circumstances the officers were working under, would rise to the level of a criminal violation by these officers,” Chacon said in a statement.
“As we move forward, these officers must be afforded all of the same protections of any defendant, including the presumption of innocence and the right to a speedy trial,” he added. “As we go through this process, I have been and remain supportive of the hardworking men and women of the Austin Police Department. I also want to re-emphasize my commitment to transparency and the rebuilding of trust between APD and the community.”
Also on Thursday, the Austin City Council agreed to pay a combined $10 million in settlements with two men who filed federal lawsuits over head injuries they suffered when hit by bean bag rounds fired by law enforcement officers during the protests, The Austin American-Statesman reported.
Justin Howell will receive $8 million and Anthony Evans will receive $2 million, according to the American-Statesman, which noted that the amount of Howell’s settlement is the highest ever paid in an excessive force settlement in the city.
Following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, protests against police brutality erupted across the nation. Austin saw tens of thousands of protesters in over a week’s time in May 2020, according to The Texas Tribune. After the protests, police were accused of using excessive force and violent crowd-control methods and faced over a dozen lawsuits.
Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk said the city was working to compensate individuals injured during the protests, but warned that “indictments will heighten the anxiety of our officers and will impact the staffing shortages we are experiencing.”
“We are disappointed to be in this position, and we do not believe that criminal indictments of the officers working under very difficult circumstances is the correct outcome,” Cronk said in a statement. “Regardless of our perspective on this matter, we respect the District Attorney and the Grand Jury process and we will continue to work in partnership with our sister agency.”
Garza said it was important to hold police accountable for excessive force.
“There cannot be trust if there is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law,” the district attorney said.
Updated Friday at 9:54 a.m.
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