AUSTIN (KXAN) – Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza plans to present 10 use-of-force cases to a grand jury this fall involving the Austin Police Department’s response to police brutality protests last year.
Thousands of Austinites took to the streets May 30-31, 2020, in response to the deaths of George Floyd – the Minneapolis man killed by an officer who has since been convicted of murder – and Mike Ramos – the unarmed man who was killed by an Austin police officer who is now charged with murder.
Several protesters reported being struck – some with life-altering injuries — with so-called less-lethal, bean bag rounds by APD officers and have since filed complaints with the Civil Rights Unit within the Travis County District Attorneys Office.
Garza said the cases had not yet been presented to a grand jury because of a backlog of officer-involved use of force cases facing his office. He said his first charge since taking office in January 2021 was to present the cases surrounding the deaths of Ramos and Javier Ambler, who died after a pursuit by Williamson County deputies that ended in Austin.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen an alarming increase of incidents and reports of police misconduct,” Garza said. “We have been clear that if a law enforcement officer breaks the law they will be held accountable.”
In June 2020, less than a month after the protests, APD identified five officers involved in the department’s response to protests. Nicholas Gebhart, Kyu An, Kyle Felton, Derrick Lehman, and John Siegel were all placed on paid administrative leave at the time and are now listed as part of cases to be presented before a grand jury this fall.
Then in December 2020, APD announced that 11 officers had been disciplined for their actions during the protests, though none of the officers were identified and the department did not explain how the officers were disciplined. APD did not respond to a request for an update from KXAN on Wednesday.
Jeff Edwards, a civil rights attorney, represents eight protesters bringing lawsuits against the city for the police department’s actions last year. He expressed frustration that none of the officers involved in the most serious incidents – less-lethal rounds striking the head – have resulted in officers being disciplined or arrested nearly a year later.
Edwards’ client, Anthony Evans, required surgery for a broken jaw after being shot in the head with a beanbag round on May 31.
“This is off the charts in terms of how bad it was at the protest,” Edwards told KXAN. “This isn’t a situation where a few officers made some mistakes and didn’t do the right thing. Far from it. This is a situation where the highest levels, the people who are supposed to be smart, the people who are supposed to be responsible, authorized the use of deadly force against innocent people.”