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Austin approves $10 million in settlements for two men shot by police with 'less lethal' rounds

Austin police cleared I-35 with tear gas after it was blocked by demonstrators on May 31. The Austin Police Department also deployed so-called less-lethal ammunition to control crowds. It's now facing six federal lawsuits over officers' use of the rounds.
Michael Minasi
Austin police clear I-35 with tear gas after demonstrators blocked it during racial justice protests on May 31, 2020. Officers also deployed so-called less-lethal ammunition to control the crowd.

Austin will pay $10 million to two men shot by police with beanbag rounds during racial justice protests in May 2020.

The Austin City Council on Thursday unanimously OK'd an $8 million settlement for Justin Howell and $2 million for Anthony Evans. They are the largest settlements in cases against APD since a $3.25 million settlement over the shooting of David Joseph in 2017.

The two men attended demonstrations in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos. Dozens of protesters were shot and injured with the ammunition, which contains lead pellets and can kill or seriously injure at close range.

Howell, then a student at Texas State University, sustained brain damage. His injuries and those of Brad Levi Ayala, who suffered severe trauma, sparked outrage. Howell's brother told KUT in 2020 he believed the use of the rounds was dangerous and traumatic.

"Something doesn't have to be lethal to be incredibly damaging," Joshua Howell said. "But we're only having serious, meaningful conversations about things that can kill you, and not things that can maim you or give you brain damage, as you saw not only in Justin's case, but in [Brad's] case."

Evans was also shot in the head with a beanbag round as he was walking away from a protest on May 31, 2020.

Ahead of the vote on the settlements, Mayor Steve Adler said it was important City Council recognized both these injuries, specifically, and that the department learn from the incidents.

“These settlements remind us of a real difficult and painful moment in our city,” Adler said. “No one should be injured while merely exercising their constitutional right to protest.”

The city approved a $150,000 settlement earlier this month in another case related to police use of the "less-lethal" ammunition.

If they accept the settlements, Evans and Howell must drop their cases in federal court against the city and the Austin Police Department.

A Travis County grand jury is weighing whether to charge Austin police officers who used these rounds.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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