Updated Feb 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

19 Austin police officers indicted in 2020 protests

Police point weapons at protestors.

Police and protesters clash at the Austin Police Department Headquarters on May 30, 2020, during a protest of the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis police. Photo: Jay Janner/American-Statesman-via USA TODAY NETWORK

A state grand jury has indicted 19 Austin police officers related to their use of force during May 2020 protests over police brutality.

State of play: News of the indictment tally broke Thursday evening, hours after the Austin City Council unanimously agreed to give a combined $10 million to settle federal lawsuits with two men wounded by officers during May 2020 protests over police brutality.

The big picture: The indictments of the officers put issues of policing and race front and center once more in an election year.

  • Of note: Among the indicted officers is Justin Berry, a Republican candidate for a Texas House district west of Austin that includes Fredericksburg, Boerne and Burnet.

What they're saying: "Our community is safer when our community trusts enforcement," Travis County District Attorney José Garza told reporters Thursday. "There cannot be trust if there is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law."

The other side: Austin police "did their jobs with the tools & training provided them," the police union tweeted Thursday night. "DA Garza is using the indictments for his political purposes."

By the numbers: Earlier Thursday, council members approved an $8 million payment to Justin Howell, the largest settlement in a case against APD since a $3.25 million agreement in 2017. Anthony Evans received $2 million.

Flashback: Howell and Evans both suffered head injuries from less-lethal bean bag rounds fired by Austin police officers.

  • Howell was nearly killed during the protests, sustaining brain damage when police fired the lead-pellet bag.
  • Evans suffered a fractured jaw and needed emergency surgery.

APD saw criticism for its use of bean bag rounds during local protests in the wake of the 2020 officer killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos.

  • Online videos and photos of bloodied protestors from APD's use of "less-lethal" bean bag rounds sparked online criticism.
  • By June 2020, then-APD chief Brian Manley vowed to halt the use of bean bag rounds during crowd situations.

What they're saying: "Today's settlement reminds us of a difficult & painful moment for our city," Austin Mayor Steve Adler wrote on Twitter. "No one should be injured while exercising their constitutional right to protest."

  • "When APD responded that day, our goal was to protect people gathering to exercise their right to protest as we have safely done for many years," Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said Thursday.
  • "In hindsight, we were not prepared for the heightened frustration felt by so many community members, nor the size and scope of the crowds," he added.
  • Later Thursday, after news of the indictments spread, Chacon said, "I am not aware of any conduct that, given the circumstances that officers were working in, that would rise to the level of a criminal violation by these officers." 

The bottom line: The consequences of Floyd's murder continue to ripple.

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