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City of Austin settles first lawsuit arising from 2020 racial justice protests

A protester holds a sign that says "Stop killing us" outside Austin police headquarters.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Austin in 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd.

The City of Austin has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a police officer injured a woman during protests in May 2020 when the officer shot her in the back of the head with a “projectile.”

At least eight other people have sued the city alleging police used unnecessary force or violated their rights by shooting so-called less-lethal rounds at demonstrators, in some cases resulting in damage to a protester’s eyesight and fracturing another person’s jaw.

A city spokesperson confirmed this was the first of these lawsuits to be settled by the city.

According to a complaint filed in federal court in November 2020, Arianna Chavez joined protests in Austin against police violence and racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that May.

In the complaint, lawyers for Chavez, who was 20 years old at the time, allege an Austin police officer shot her in the back of a head with a “dangerous projectile,” causing "a serious head wound, head trauma and a concussion." The lawsuit does not identify the officer, but as of October 2020, the department said it was investigating seven officers it suspects injured demonstrators during the protests nearly two years ago.

“I just want to extend continued apologies for what happened to people at the protests and people needlessly hurt and to Ms. Chavez in this case,” Council Member Greg Casar said before the vote. “I know there’s a lot of work left at the council to do to make right with everyone that was hurt there.”

Chavez's lawyer, Jeff Edwards, said he was glad the city had accepted a "modicum of responsibility" by settling.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long, but at some point the adults in the room have spoken and I have to credit the City Council as the conscience of the community finally saying we have to do right by the people we needlessly hurt," he told KUT.

During the protests, which took place over several days outside APD’s downtown headquarters, officers shot bags of lead-filled pellets at demonstrators. After hundreds of people testified about injuries caused by the projectiles at an Austin City Council meeting the next week, then-Chief Brian Manley said officers would no longer be permitted to fire these rounds at crowds.

The vote to approve the settlement was 10 to 1, with Council Member Mackenzie Kelly voting against the settlement. Kelly did not respond to a request to comment on her "no" vote.

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