A woman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the City of Austin and an unidentified Austin police officer, claiming the officer used excessive force as she was helping an injured person during a Black Lives Matter protest on May 31.
The plaintiff, Maredith Drake, was trying to help a wounded and unconscious man — 20-year-old Justin Howell — get to an ambulance when the officer shot her with so-called bean-bag rounds, or bags filled with shotgun pellets, according to the lawsuit.
“Shooting an innocent person helping an unconscious individual to safety is the definition of excessive force,” Drake’s attorney Jeff Edwards said in a press release. “Maredith went downtown that day to help people exercise their First Amendment rights. That the police would use brutal force on peaceful demonstrators like Maredith during a protest against police brutality no less is beyond the pale. That their leadership would defend it shows that APD is in drastic need of fundamental reform.”
Protests erupted in Austin this summer against racism and police brutality after the police killings of George Floyd, Mike Ramos and other people of color. During the May 31 protest, police shot Howell, a Texas State University student, in the head with a lead-pellet bag, nearly killing him.
Drake was at the protest offering first aid to demonstrators as a volunteer, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says she was wearing a helmet marked with crosses and a shirt featuring a red cross to “clearly identify her as a ‘street medic.’”
Drake and other medics went to take Howell to an ambulance. As she was helping direct other volunteers carrying him, she held her hands up, the lawsuit says, and an officer then shot her, “severely” damaging her hand.
“Numerous APD officers watched [the officer] shoot Drake, but not one officer intervened to stop the outrageous conduct,” the lawsuit adds.
A city spokesperson says the city is reviewing claims related to the May protests.
“Because there were many individuals involved in the events, it takes time to sort through everything,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The Police Department, along with the Office of Police Oversight, and the Law Department will review each claim, and the city will work directly with the individual protestors and their lawyers.”
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