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Travis County dismisses charges against APD officers who used beanbag rounds in 2020 protests

Two Austin police officers are seen standing with a baton and a shotgun as they respond to protests outside the police department's headquarters on May 30, 2020.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
/
KUT
Two Austin police officers stand with a baton and a shotgun as they respond to protests outside the police department's headquarters on May 30, 2020.

The Travis County district attorney has dropped assault charges against 17 Austin police officers who used so-called "less lethal" beanbag rounds over a weekend of racial justice protests in 2020.

District Attorney José Garza pursued charges against 21 officers after several Austinites were seriously injured during protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the fatal shooting of Mike Ramos by Austin police officer Christopher Taylor. Garza's office will still pursue criminal charges against four officers, it said in a joint statement with Austin Mayor Kirk Watson. Garza, Watson and interim APD Chief Robin Henderson said they are asking the Department of Justice to review APD's use of force during the protests.

Garza's office couldn't yet confirm which of the four officers are still facing charges, but the district attorney said he would work with city officials and Henderson going forward.

“We expect the Department of Justice will take our request seriously, and we look forward to working with Mayor Watson, Interim APD Chief Robin Henderson, and City Council to ensure full cooperation with the DOJ investigation," Garza said. "We will also continue to hold law enforcement who break the law accountable."

The police department faced searing criticism over its use of beanbag rounds, which contain lead pellets and are fired from a 12-gauge shotgun. Two demonstrators — then-20-year-old Justin Howell and then-16-year-old Brad Ayala — sustained brain damage after they were shot in the head with the rounds. Dozens of other Austinites were injured after APD fired into crowds during the protests in May 2020.

The department has since said it won't use the ammunition to control crowds, and the city said it has paid out $18 million in civil settlements after lawsuits related to APD's response.

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 aweber@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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