Austin charges 19 police officers for misconduct during 2020 Black Lives Matter protests

‘We believe many protesters injured by officers during the protests were innocent bystanders,’ Austin district attorney José Garza said

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Saturday 19 February 2022 21:01
Black Lives Matter activist jailed for six years for trying to register to vote after authorities told her she could

At least 19 Austin, Texas police officers have been criminally charged for misconduct during 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, believed to be the largest single act of police discipline to result from the summer of unrest.

“We believe many protesters injured by officers during the protests were innocent bystanders,” Austin district attorney José Garza said during a news conference on Thursday, announcing the charges. “We also believe that the overwhelming majority of victims in the incidents that were investigated suffered significant and lasting injuries.”

The names of the officers have not yet been released because under Texas law indictments of this sort cannot be made public until their subjects are served with warrants or turn themselves in.

The Austin police union has named Justin Berry, a Republican candidate for the Texas statehouse, as one of the named officers. Mr Berry’s attorney has declined to comment on the allegations.

The Texas city saw particularly heated protests during the nationwide uprising. Tensions were already high before George Floyd died, after police shot and killed an unarmed Black and Latino man named Michael Ramos a month before in Austin.

During the protests themselves, Austin police used “bean bag munitions” – bags filled with lead, fired out of shotguns – on demonstrators. While officials considered the projectiles non-lethal, they sent at least 11 people to the hospital.

Brad Levi Ayala was struck with one such round while watching a peaceful protest.

“It created this huge gaping hole in his head – a huge wound,” his brother Edwin Sanchez told The New York Times on Thursday.

This week, the city paid a combined $10m to two Black men who suffered a fractured skull and jaw, respectively, because of the rounds, which Austin police no longer use for crowd control.

Justice advocates celebrated the aggressive oversight from DA Garza, a Democratic socialist who ran on a criminal justice reform agenda.

“There’s literally been no accountability for the officers that seriously injured dozens of people during the protest,” Chris Harris, policy director of the Austin Justice Coalition, told The Guardian. “So this is something that needed to happen. And so we’re glad that Jose Garza is here and and did something.”

Despite allegations from across the country that police responded to protests and riots with a violent riot of their own, few officers have been disciplined for misconduct, even in the cities where the most intense clashes took place, like New York and Minneapolis.

Police officials took issue with the indictments.

“I believe in many instances the officers were simply attempting to protect themselves and other protest participants,” Austin police chief Joseph Chacon said earlier this week. “I am not aware of any conduct that, given the circumstances that the officers were working under, would rise to the level of a criminal violation.”

The head of the Austin police union, meanwhile, called the charges a “disgrace”.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in