Austin attorney helping arrested protesters pro bono

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Many protesters arrested in Austin over the weekend are already out of jail, according to inmate searches online and an attorney who’s offering to represent them for free.

Austin criminal defense and family law attorney Tycha Kimbrough told KXAN she’s heard from at least ten people from Travis County who were arrested in Austin over the weekend during the protests for George Floyd and Mike Ramos. The calls came after Kimbrough posted Saturday on Facebook that she is offering pro bono legal services for local protesters arrested.

“I felt like it is my duty to give back to people who are out there protesting,” said Kimbrough. “We are just fed up and tired of the continued injustices that black people and brown people often face — not only in the United States, but here in Travis County and Austin as well.”

Kimbrough said she is only representing people for free who she believes were protesting peacefully, and did not break the law.

She said everyone who has reached out were arrested and charged with rioting, obstructing a highway or criminal mischief. Rioting and obstruction are both Class B misdemeanors, which carries a punishment of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Criminal mischief can vary from a Class C misdemeanor or higher depending on the dollar amount of property damage.

“The truth is, unfortunately, peaceful protesters are also being arrested, so it’s my job as a criminal defense attorney to protect our Constitution and protect people’s rights,” said Kimbrough.

Kimbrough said typically there is no jail time for a Class C misdemeanor, but several clients told her they spent more than 24 hours in jail and ended up being released on no bond, and it appeared no charges were filed.

Those arrested on a Class B said they were released on personal recognizance bonds which means a bail amount is set, but then waived. PR bail is based on a promise that the suspect will appear at all required court hearings.

Groups and individuals across the country have also been raising thousands of dollars through online fundraising sites to help cover bail for those arrested at protests. KXAN ran across this fundraising page that claims to be a bail fund set up for Austin protesters who were arrested. As of Monday at 6 p.m. it had raised more than $15,000 of the $20,000 goal.

Monday, Austin police said officers made nearly 30 protest-related arrests over the weekend.

Misdemeanor cases are handled by the Travis County attorney’s office. Travis County attorney David Escamilla said his office has 50 to 60 cases from over the weekend to review, and not all are protest-related.

He said it will take a few days to examine each and every one, sift through evidence like police body camera footage and decide if and what charges should be pursued.

“No one is formally charged until my office reviews the evidence,” said Escamilla.

Once that process plays out, each outcome will be different for each person based on a number of factors including criminal history. In the graffiti cases, the type of charge and punishment range depends on the total damage amount.

“We recognize Travis County is a tolerant community and respectful, but we do see a need for people to be accountable,” said Escamilla. “We have many options available, and our main goal is for people to not re-offend.”

While his office may not choose to go this route, Escamilla also said certain charges can be enhanced during a disaster declaration, which includes a riot charge. The state is currently under two disaster declarations: the one issued by the governor for COVID-19 and the new one he issued Saturday during the statewide protests.

Escamilla said a Class B misdemeanor could be enhanced to a Class A, or his office has the option to try to add on a longer penalty.

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