Austin Police Chief: force used against protesters ‘within policy’

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dozens of spent beanbag rounds could be found around the Austin Police Department building Monday, a reminder of the weekend protests and the often-tense clash between protesters and law enforcement.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told KXAN that a young man is in critical condition after being shot in the head by police with one of these rounds on Sunday night.

Taylor Herbots was at the protest and was nearby when the 20-year-old was shot.

“He just got hit, he went limp, and he fell to the ground,” said Herbots. “Some people ran up to go see, he was not responsive.”

Manley says a second protester was also seriously injured by another, less-than-lethal round.

“This was two very young people who we believe are from our community – but regardless – that are right now fighting for their life and seriously injured,” said an emotional Chief Manley on Monday. “That is not what we set out to do as a police department.”

Chief Manley also said he’s already in the process of reviewing these crowd control tactics with his administrative team. These include beanbag rounds, but also tear gas and rubber bullets.

But he also said this weekend’s force was within policy.

When to use less-lethal methods

Our investigative team has been looking into APD’s policies for use of less-than-lethal force.

In a press conference Monday, Chief Manley outlined some of the situations in the department’s policy that would justify the use of less-lethal methods.

“When it comes to the impact munitions, there’s several criteria for that and in this case some of those criteria or whether there be riotous behavior, and [the policy] specifically spells out individuals throwing objects such as rocks, bottles and the like,” Chief Manley said. “There are other qualifications or circumstances under which that munition can be used but that is one that was particularly relevant to what happened over the weekend.”

Chief Manley added that impact munitions can be used when there is reasonable suspicion that a subject has committed a violent crime, is not following or refuses to comply with an officer’s commands.

The department’s policy manual says before an officer discharges one of these projectiles, they must consider the following:

  1. The subject’s capability to pose an imminent threat to the safety of officers or
    others.
  2. Whether the subject is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by
    flight.
  3. The credibility of the subject’s threat as evaluated by the officers present, and
    the subject’s physical capacity/capability to carry out the threat.
  4. The availability of other force options and their possible effectiveness.
  5. Distance and angle to target.
  6. Type of munitions employed.
  7. Type and thickness of subject’s clothing.
  8. The subject’s actions dictate the need for an immediate response and the use
    of control devices appears appropriate.

The manual also says that deployment is appropriate when someone is “engaged in riotous behavior or is throwing rocks, bottles or other dangerous projectiles at people and/or officers, creating a risk for injury.”

The department policies also outline when CS gas should be used. Among those conditions are when officers need to restore order to a situation that would be more dangerous to make an approach than handling the situation from a distance using CS gas, according to the department.

“That is only one situation out of many that that chemical agent can be used,” Chief Manley said.

KXAN reached out to San Antonio police, which said its policy is that physical force should only be used on an “active resistant.”

What is a less-lethal round?

While there is a spectrum of non-lethal and less-lethal options available law enforcement, like rubber bullets or stun guns, Chief Manley was pointedly clear that the impact rounds used by APD over the weekend was limited to “bean bag rounds.”

According to information from SDI, a company that specializes in less-lethal weapons and munitions, bean bag rounds are made of a small fabric pillow filled with lead pellets and cased in a shotgun shell. They are fired from a normal 12 gauge shotgun.

The advantage for law enforcement, according to SDI, is that an officer can fire from a distance of up to 15 or 20 feet to maintain accuracy and does not need to be close to use it, as they would with batons and some stun devices.

The disadvantage, as seen over the weekend, is that the round can do serious damage and “cause injuries requiring medical attention at a hospital most of the time. In some cases, they can cause death.”

Austin-Travis County EMS said it responded to 19 protest-related incidents on Saturday. On Sunday, it responded to 10 incidents involving nine patients. Six people were transported to the hospital.

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