Grand Jury Indicts 19 Austin Cops for Alleged Excessive Force Amid Protests

A Texas grand jury has indicted 19 Austin police officers for alleged excessive force at the city's 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

This could wind up as the highest number of officers indicted in connection with the protests sparked by George Floyd's 2020 murder, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The 19 officers were indicted on aggravated assault charges, the Associated Press reported. The police did not immediately identify the officers.

The jury reviewed the actions of 21 police officers during the protests, Austin's KVUE-TV reported. The May 2020 protests drew tens of thousands of people to the city to demonstrate for over a week. According to the local news station, over 30 people had to be hospitalized during that week for everything from head injuries to broken bones. Most claimed these injuries were due to the police's excessive force.

In the nearly two years since the protests, about a dozen people have sued the city or individual officers, with some of the settlements paying millions of dollars, KVUE added.

Most of the cases the grand jury considered involved the use of "bean bag" rounds, the American-Statesman reported. The rounds are made up of small shot pellets encased in a cloth. They are meant to be non-lethal, instead causing a muscle spasm, "which will stop the assailant without causing severe tissue damage," according to Aiming Expert.

However, the American-Statesman reported the rounds still did critical damage to some of those hit with them. For example, being shot with bean bag rounds left 20-year-old Justin Howell with brain damage and a fractured skull, according to his brother, and required another protester named Anthony Evans to get emergency jaw surgery.

The Austin City Council approved large settlements for both men—$8 million for Howell and $2 million for Evans. KVUE reported Howell's settlement is the city's largest ever for a use-of-force case.

"Today's settlement reminds us of a difficult & painful moment for our city," Austin Mayor Steve Adler wrote on his Twitter. "No one should be injured while exercising their constitutional right to protest. It's important that we address these two injuries and that we've made policy changes going forward."

At a press conference held before the indictment announcement, Austin Police Association President Ken Casadaycriticized Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza, who has been in the position for just over a year and advocated for police accountability and reform during his campaign.

"It's an absolute disgrace and it sickens me that DA Garza is using enforcement officers as pawns in a political game of chess," Casaday said. "DA Garza ran on a platform to indict officers and has not missed the opportunity to try and ruin lives, careers and simply fulfill a campaign promise."

According to the American-Statesman, there is no evidence that the indictments were politically motivated.

Update 02/17/22 2:50 p.m. ET: This story was updated to add more information.

protest, Austin, Texas
A Texas grand jury has indicted 19 Austin police officers for excessive force during 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Above, people hold up signs outside the Austin Police Department after a vigil for Garrett Foster, who was armed and participating in a Black Lives Matter protest when he was shot and killed after a chaotic altercation with a motorist who allegedly drove into the crowd, on July 26, 2020, in Austin. Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images