AUSTIN, Texas — According to sources close to the matter, a Travis County grand jury on Thursday issued at least 19 indictments for Austin Police Department (APD) officers accused of excessive use of force, a number that could grow as officers and attorneys are notified of other potential indictments.
This number of indictments is also expected to be the highest of any U.S. city following the unrest of George Floyd's murder. The 19 indicted officers will be placed on administrative duty until their cases are resolved, according to Austin police.
The indictments come after the grand jury conducted a review of 21 Austin police officers' actions during the unprecedented protests following Floyd's murder in Minneapolis and the controversial shooting in Austin of Michael Ramos in April 2020.
Friday night, Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday tweeted indicating that the indicted officers had turned themselves into authorities.
The 2020 protests drew tens of thousands to Downtown Austin streets last May and led about three dozen people to be taken to the hospital during more than a week of protests. The protestors suffered a range of injuries, including traumatic head wounds and broken bones, that they claim were the result of excessive force by Austin police officers.
According to documents released by the Travis County District Attorney's Office, the cases considered by the grand jury focus almost exclusively on the use of "less lethal" bean bag rounds.
In the 20 months since the protests, about a dozen plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the City of Austin and individual officers. Last week, the City settled its first case stemming from the protests, paying out $150,000.
On Thursday, the Austin City Council approved settlements worth $10 million total in two civil lawsuits connected to the protests. A total of $8 million will be given to Justin Howell and $2 million will be paid to Anthony Evans. The $8 million settlement for Howell is the largest settlement amount ever paid for a use-of-force case in Austin's history.
"It's an absolute disgrace and it sickens me that DA Garza is using enforcement officers as pawns in a political game of chess," said Casaday. "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."
Casaday also called the timing of Thursday's indictments during early voting for the primary election "mighty suspicious."
Charley Wilkison, the executive director of CLEAT told KVUE that the Austin police officers who were indicted did everything they were taught to do and that they shouldn't be punished for it.
"I think you will wind up with the lack of people, qualified folks looking to come here and risk their lives and put up with this. If the officers won't say no, their wives damn sure will," Wilkison said.
Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza held a press conference following the indictments, where he said many protesters injured by officers were innocent bystanders and that many sustained "significant and lasting injuries."
Garza also said that trust in law enforcement depends on accountability when officers break the law.
"Our community is safer when our community trusts enforcement. When it believes law enforcement follows that law and protects the people who live here," Garza said. "When the community does not believe that is true, it is less likely to report crime. People are less likely to act as witnesses. People are more likely to take the law into their own hands. If people do not trust law enforcement, our community is less safe. There cannot be trust if their is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law."
Garza responded to claims that the DA's office has been biased against officers by saying his office also prosecuted a number of people involved in protests who "engaged in criminal conduct" during the protests.
"Our office investigates and prosecutes any person who causes harm in our community regardless of who causes it," he said.
Watch the DA's full press conference here:
APD Chief Joseph Chacon held a press conference soon after Garza. Chacon addressed the statements made by the DA, saying he was "disappointed" in his statements anticipating indictments.
Chacon said he did not believe actions by officers during the protests rose to the level of a criminal violations as they worked under "the most chaotic of circumstances" with crowds of protesters that, at times, were "riotous and violent."
"As a department, we asked these officers to work under the most chaotic of circumstances in May of 2020 and to make split-second decisions to protect all participants. The size, scope and tenor of the crowds was underestimated by management," Chacon said. "Officers were prepared for hundreds, when instead they faced thousands, placing them in potentially the worst possible circumstances to manage escalating crowds. While certainly not every moment of the protest could be classified as a 'riot,' there was significant portions of times that the crowds were riotous and violent."
Chacon added that officers were trying to protect themselves and protesters, and he reiterated the fact that the department now bans the use of "less-lethal munitions" in crowd control situations.
"I also want to reemphasize my commitment to transparency and the rebuilding of trust between APD and the community," Chacon said.
Watch Chacon's full press conference here:
Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued the following statement regarding the indictments:
"The judicial process, now moving forward, needs to be respected. Something went wrong here because no one should be injured merely exercising their constitutional rights. Our police department said, right after that weekend, that never again would we use such weapons for crowd control. I wish that city policy had been in place before this event."
Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk issued a statement saying in part that the City is "disappointed to be in this position."
"However, any indictments will heighten the anxiety of our officers and will impact the staffing shortages we are experiencing. We are disappointed to be in this position, and we do not believe that criminal indictments of the officers working under very difficult circumstances is the correct outcome," Cronk said.
APD releases booking photos for 19 indicted officers
According to the district attorney's office, there are currently 19 officers involved in pending cases involving use of force during the protests that are being presented to grand juries. The Travis County Sheriff's Office gave the following booking and bonding information:
- Nicholas Gebhart - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a surety bond the same day
- Kyu An - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a surety bond the same day
- Derrick Lehman - Booked Feb. 21 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Edward Boudreau - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Joseph Cast - Booked Feb. 21 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- John Siegel - Booked Feb. 21 – Released on a surety bond the same day
- Kyle Felton (indicted on two charges) - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a surety bond the same day
- Jeffrey Teng - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Rolan Rast - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a surety bond the same day
- Justin Berry - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Alexander Lomostev - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Todd Gilbertson - Booked Feb. 21 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Stanley Vick - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Christian Irwin - processed as of Feb. 22
- Jeremy Fisher - Booked Feb. 21 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Joshua Jackson - Booked into the Travis County Jail Feb. 18 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Brett Tabierou - Booked Feb. 21 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Josh Blake - Booked Feb. 21 – Released on a cash bond the same day
- Eric Heim
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