Deaf Austinite Says APD Didn't Warn Him Before Shooting Him 12 Times With Less-Lethal Rounds Last Summer
Another protester is suing the Austin Police Department in federal court alleging the department used excessive force in its response to demonstrations against police violence last summer.
In a federal complaint filed Monday, Tyree Talley, a demonstrator, accused the department of violating his right to free speech on May 31 when he was shot 12 times with so-called less-lethal ammunition outside APD headquarters. Talley, who is deaf, also alleges the department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when unnamed officers failed to properly communicate with him before opening fire.
Talley's is the eighth suit in federal court filed against the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over alleged police misconduct during demonstrations following police killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos last year.
Scott Hendler, an attorney representing Talley, said officers had the capability to communicate with deaf demonstrators like Talley through an app on their APD-issued phones.
"They made no effort to do that," he said. "No one gave him any signals that he was to clear the area, that he was in violation of a lawful order or any other justification to open fire on him."
The complaint says Talley felt a round of ammunition whizz by his ear when he realized he'd been hit, and then, before he could react, he was shot again in the groin, incapacitating him.
Officers shot him 10 more times while he was in the fetal position in the middle of Eighth Street in front of APD headquarters, the complaint alleges. Eventually, onlookers helped Talley up and got him to safety.
In a statement, a City of Austin spokesperson said the city and APD are working with complainants.
"As with all of the claims and lawsuits the City has received related to the summer protests, we will handle it respectfully and fairly," the statement read. "Each case is different, and we will review the facts and circumstances and advise our clients as appropriate."
The department's use of the ammunition billed as "less-lethal" came under scrutiny last summer. It includes foam baton rounds, which are hard foam caps fired from a grenade launcher, and shotgun rounds filled with bags of lead or silica-based pellets. While marketed as a nonlethal alternative to live ammunition, APD's use of the ammunition nearly killed Brad Ayala and Justin Howell last summer and seriously wounded other demonstrators. The department said it would no longer use the ammunition last summer to control crowds, but hasn't banned their use outright — and even continued restocking its supply up until last fall.
Hendler and his law partner Rebecca Webber are representing two other clients who were injured by less-lethal rounds last summer, as well as the families of Mike Ramos, Aquantis "Ajay" Griffin and Alex Gonzales Jr. — all young men of color who were fatally shot by Austin police officers in the last several years.
In response to calls for change within APD, the Austin City Council suspended the department's cadet classes last August, and, after a series of training audits, APD and the city have committed to reworking the department's training. It's not clear when that will be finalized.
Hendler said he hopes those efforts lead to systemic change in how officers are recruited and trained, but he says, in instances of lethal and less-lethal use-of-force, litigation, so far, has been the only option, as he sees it.
"The only way to address it, we think, is through this kind of litigation — that it's going to force the city to take some measures to change it," Hendler says. "I mean, why should they be paying out millions of dollars in damages, when they could put that money towards training and recruiting responsible police officers instead of the ones that are trigger-happy? That's the upshot."
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