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Crime & Justice

Veteran Sues APD, Arguing ‘Less-Lethal’ Round Triggered His PTSD And Caused ‘Permanent Disfigurement’

Austin police officers watch demonstrators outside APD headquarters on May 31.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Austin police officers watch demonstrators outside APD headquarters on May 31.

The Austin Police Department is facing another federal lawsuit over its use of "less-lethal" ammunition during demonstrations against police violence and racism over the summer.

Jose "Joe" Herrera filed a lawsuit Monday against the department and an unnamed officer, alleging the officer's use of the ammunition used for crowd control constituted excessive force and triggered post-traumatic stress.

Herrera's suit is one of five against the department for using the rounds, which are fired from a shotgun and contain lead or silica birdshot. Two protesters suffered brain damage after being hit in the head during protests over the killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos.

In his complaint, Herrera argues he was peacefully demonstrating across the street from APD headquarters. Someone in the crowd threw a water bottle at officers, and then he was shot in the thigh with a beanbag round.

"The individual who threw it was not near Joe," the complaint argues. "Nevertheless, after he did nothing more than stand up and face APD headquarters, APD officers opened fire on Joe and numerous people who posed no threat to anyone."

Herrera says the wound caused "permanent disfigurement," along with ongoing pain, numbness and tingling. The complaint says the incident also triggered Herrera's PTSD, which he developed in the military in Iraq, and violated his civil rights.

The city and the police department have said they are monitoring all complaints related to the rounds and working with those injured.

As in the four other lawsuits, Herrera's suit calls out Police Chief Brian Manley for continuing to use the rounds even after dozens of protesters were seriously injured.

Manley did limit use of the ammunition days later. However, an investigation out this month by KUT and The Trace found APD has quietly restocked its cache.

The rounds are inaccurate at long distances and can maim and even kill at short distances.

Doctors from Ascension Seton Hospital in Austin expressed concern about them in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine in August.

The letter catalogs trauma sustained by 19 patients, eight of whom required surgery. Injuries included skull fractures and severe lacerations to the head and face. Four patients had beanbags lodged in their bodies after being shot.

The Austin Police Department has suspended officers in relation to the incidents May 30 and 31.

Read Herrera's full complaint.

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