Accountability for police violence is bigger — in Texas?
A grand jury in Austin has indicted as many as 19 officers on charges of using excessive force against protesters who took to the streets in the Texas capital following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The indictments set up perhaps the most sweeping criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers anywhere in the country stemming from violent policing of Black Lives Matter protests.
Travis County District Attorney José Garza announced in a press conference Thursday that “multiple indictments will be forthcoming” against Austin law enforcement officers. Garza — a reform-minded DA whose official bio refers to “our broken criminal justice system” — said that the facts uncovered while investigating police misconduct during the protests “are disturbing.”
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Evidence presented to the grand jury, Garza said, suggested that many of the Austin protesters hurt by cops “were innocent bystanders,” and that many of the victims of police violence “suffered significant and lasting injuries” including wounds “to the head, face and body.”
Without naming the munitions used against protesters, Garza said: “We know that the majority of victims were injured by a deadly weapon capable of causing serious bodily injury and death.” He added that “some will never fully recover.” (The indictments were announced shortly after the city reached a historic $10 million settlement with two protesters who were hit in the head and face, respectively, by police bean-bag rounds.)
The DA insisted his office was impartial and had also prosecuted dozens of lawless protesters. But Garza emphasized the importance of trust between police and the community. “There cannot be trust if there is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law,” he said.
The indictments have not yet been unsealed, and Garza said their details would not be announced until those charged have been booked. But the Austin American-Statesman, citing the city’s police union chief, reports that 19 officers were charged by the Travis County grand jury. (The police union chief did not immediately return a request for comment.) The Associated Press is also reporting that 19 cops were indicted on charges as serious as aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
At his own Thursday press conference, an emotional Austin Police Department Chief Joseph Chacon said he was “extremely disappointed” to hear of the impending charges. The chief defended his cops, saying he did not believe that any conduct by APD officers during the protests “would rise to the level of a criminal violation.”
Chacon — who was assistant chief during the protests — referred to the 2020 demonstrations as “riotous and violent,” describing rocks, bottles and fireworks that were hurled at officers. He said that APD management had underestimated the size of the crowds and that officers’ weapons at times “did not perform in the manner anticipated,” adding that the department now prohibits the use of less-lethal munitions for crowd control.
The rank-and-file reaction of Austin cops to the widespread indictments will be closely watched. After a single Portland police officer was charged with misdemeanor assault of a protester, the city’s entire riot squad resigned that team in protest.
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