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DA says grand jury indicting 'multiple' Austin police officers for injuries during 2020 protests

Racial Injustice Protests-Texas
Eric Gay
/
AP
FILE - Austin police keep watch as demonstrators gather on June 4, 2020, in downtown Austin, Texas, as they protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. The Austin City Council on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, approved paying a combined $10 million to two people injured when officers fired beanbag rounds into crowds during the 2020 social justice protests, including a college student who suffered brain damage.

A Travis County grand jury is expected to indict "multiple" Austin Police officers accused of injuring people during the 2020 protests over the killing of George Floyd.

In announcing the indictments, Travis County District Attorney José Garza said "multiple indictments will be forthcoming in the days ahead,” but did not specify how many. The Austin American-Statesman reports 19 police officers have been indicted.

“An indictment handed down by a grand jury is a preliminary decision that probable cause exists to believe a crime was committed,” Garza said during a news conference Thursday. “It is not a statement as to the guilt or innocence of any person indicted. That determination will not be made until much later in the process.”

A Travis County special grand jury had been tasked with deciding whether there was probable cause to find law enforcement officers acted criminally during the 2020 protests. Garza said Thursday the jury had concluded its work and that indictments were expected, though they couldn't be made public until the officers were booked in the county jail.

Garza described the facts discovered during the investigation as “disturbing.”

First, we believe many protesters injured by law enforcement officers during the protest were innocent bystanders,” he said. “We also believe that the overwhelming majority of victims in the incidents that were investigated suffered significant and lasting injuries. Those injuries include significant and serious injuries to the head, face and body. Some will never fully recover.”

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said he was “extremely disappointed” in the DA's announcement. He defended the officers, saying they were working “under the most chaotic of circumstances” and had to make “split-second decisions to protect all participants" in the protests.

“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 by these officers,” he said during a news conference. “We are at the beginning of the criminal justice process. 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.”

One of the officers Garza’s office has been investigating is Justin Berry, a longtime APD veteran and a Republican candidate for Texas House District 19, a newly drawn district that includes western Travis County.

Austin’s police union and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, the state’s largest pro-police advocacy group, both denounced Garza’s investigation as politically motivated.

Garza defended his office’s investigations, arguing the DA’s office has also pursued cases against violent demonstrators during the protests.

“First, the information that our office presents to the grand jury — in all cases — is complete and balanced. Second, our office prosecuted 33 cases against people who engaged in criminal conduct during the protests, including 11 cases that are still pending,” he said at Thursday's news conference. “Our office investigates and prosecutes any person who causes harm in our community, regardless of who causes it.”

Garza ran on a progressive platform that included investigating and prosecuting police misconduct. His office has pursued investigations of law enforcement officials from APD, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.

News of the indictments came just hours after the City of Austin agreed to pay $10 million to settle the cases of two men shot by police with beanbag rounds during the protests.

Andrew Weber is a freelance reporter and associate editor for KUT News. A graduate of St. Edward's University with a degree in English, Andrew has previously interned with The Texas Tribune, The Austin American-Statesman and KOOP Radio.
Marisa Charpentier