Lawsuit: Protester says he was running away when APD officer shot him in the face with ‘less lethal’ round

Austin Protests

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A protester is suing the City of Austin after he says an unidentified Austin Police Department officer shot him in the face with a “less lethal” round, damaging his skull.

Drone footage from May 31 shows Sam Kirsch and others protesting on Interstate 35. Austin police officers fired tear gas into the crowd to get them to disperse.

Kirsch’s attorneys say their client had already left the road and was on the grassy median when he looked back and was hit in the face with a less-than-lethal round.

“Multiple protesters who had been running up the hill to escape the shooting, turned back to help Sam who was bleeding profusely and was blinded,” the lawsuit reads.

From there, two women drove Kirsch to the Dell Seton Medical Center emergency room. He suffered broken bones in his head and has undergone three surgeries to date—including getting metal implants installed. The lawsuit says his eyesight may never fully heal.

The lawsuit also alleges the city armed its police with “expired munitions which had hardened over time” and caused more-severe injuries to protesters.

The lawsuit also claims APD didn’t handle Kirsch’s complaint fairly. Kirsch’s attorneys say he spoke about the incident at a June 4 Austin City Council meeting, where Chief Brian Manley and assistant chiefs were in attendance.

“There was blood all over my chest and my hands. It felt like a war zone. I did not know what was going on, and it all happened extremely quickly,” Kirsch said at the meeting.

However, the lawsuit alleges “police denied having even heard of Sam Kirsch or his injury one month later.” In August, Kirsch spoke with an investigator who reportedly said “he did not yet have probable cause to investigate any police officer for injuring Sam.”

Since then, attorneys point out the unnamed officer has been placed on administrative leave. APD has also stopped using certain tactics and devices, such as beanbag rounds, for crowd control during demonstrations.

Kirsch is seeking recovery for past and future medical expenses. A City of Austin spokesperson responded to the lawsuit in a statement to KXAN Tuesday:

“The city continues to review the claims related to the May 2020 protests. Because there were many individuals involved in the events, it takes time to sort through everything. 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.”

Other protester lawsuits

There have been several lawsuits filed by protesters claiming to have experienced excessive, unprovoked use-of-force from APD officers. Many of them suffered injuries as a result.

Jason Gallagher claims he was pepper sprayed in the face and pushed with a police baton while protesting near the Austin Police Department headquarters on May 30, according to one lawsuit.

On May 31, Maredith Drake, 43, who was serving a street medic, was trying to carry an injured protester toward APD headquarters so he could get medical attention. That’s when an officer allegedly shot a bean-bag round at her hands, her lawsuit said. A level-one investigation was launched by Austin police to try and figure out what happened.

Anthony Evans says he was shot in the head with a beanbag round while unarmed and attempting to leave the demonstration on May 31. The shot, the lawsuit says, required surgery to repair his broken jaw.

In June, after the downtown May protests, the Office of Police Oversight, which is an independent agency, released more than 220 formal complaints relating to APD actions during the protests.

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