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Crime & Justice

Austin Doctors Say 'Less Lethal' Munitions Used By Law Enforcement Can Cause Serious Harm 

Austin police point guns at protesters being forced off I-35.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
/
KUT
Austin police force protesters off the I-35 overpass during a demostration against police violence and systemic racism on May 30.

The “beanbag" rounds law enforcement agencies call "less lethal” munitions can cause serious injuries and should not be used for crowd control, a group of doctors from Dell Medical School at UT Austin wrote Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The commentary was provided after a series of protests in Austin against racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd. During the protests, Austin police fired those beanbags – bags filled with lead pellets – into crowds, injuring several people.

Eight patients hurt by the rounds were admitted to Ascension Seton, the doctors said. Seven had to have surgery for injuries such as brain bleeds.

“Four patients had intracranial hemorrhages,” they wrote. “One patient presented with a depressed parietal skull fracture with associated subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhages, leading to emergency intubation, decompressive craniectomy, and a prolonged stay in the intensive care unit. Another patient presented with a depressed frontal bone fracture with retained beanbag, which was treated with an emergency craniotomy and cranioplasty.”

The doctors wrote that their opinion is based solely on their experiences at Ascension Seton, which is tied to Dell Medical School. However, they said, “these findings highlight the fact that beanbag munitions can cause serious harm and are not appropriate for use in crowd control.”

In response to outcry over injuries during the protests, the Austin Police Department said it would no longer fire these rounds into crowds.

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at alopez@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.

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