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Austin police officers who used ‘less lethal’ ammunition in 2020 protests could face charges

Demonstrators face off with police officers on the ramp to I-35 near APD headquarters during protests over the killing of George Floyd.
Michael Minasi
Demonstrators face off with police officers on the ramp to I-35 near APD headquarters during 2020 protests over the killing of George Floyd.

A Travis County grand jury is considering charges against Austin police officers who used beanbag rounds during protests over police killings in 2020.

The Travis County District Attorney's office confirmed cases are before a grand jury, as first reported by the Austin American-Statesman. It would not comment on when decisions will be reached.

The office's civil rights division is investigating 12 cases involving 18 officers during protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos. The Statesman reports those investigations are wrapping up, and that a grand jury could decide whether to charge some officers by the end of the month.

Dozens of protesters were injured by police who shot "less-lethal" rounds into crowds during the last weekend of May 2020. The rounds contained lead or plastic pellets in shotgun shells. Two demonstrators, Brad Ayala and Justin Howell, suffered brain damage after getting hit.

Use of the rounds, which manufacturers say can seriously injure or kill if fired from close range, was roundly criticized by the Austin City Council. A study from UT's Dell Medical School published in the New England Journal of Medicine found at least seven Austinites at the protests needed emergency surgery for brain trauma. The study suggested the rounds "can cause serious harm and are not appropriate for use in crowd control."

Because of the severity of the injuries, the Austin Police Department vowed not to use them to control crowds. Months later, however, the city quietly stockpiled the ammunition, an investigation from The Trace and KUT discovered.

Demonstrators have filed at least eight civil lawsuits in federal court against the city and APD over use of the ammunition. The Austin City Council approved a settlement in one case last week, the first settlement so far.

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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