AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department and the FBI are asking the community for any videos or digital evidence of violence from protests over the weekend, to aid in their investigations.
Particularly, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said they are looking for video showing incidents were protesters were injured by law enforcement response.
He referenced one incident where a man was hit in the head by a less lethal round and critically injured. He said they have some video from the downtown HALO camera system.
“We are trying to piece together video, body worn camera video, any video we have, to piece together what happened in this incident,” he said. “I know a lot of people were recording, please bring that to us so we can include that in our review of these incidents.”
“These videos… could be used in a prosecution, whether it’s police misconduct or protester misconduct.”Bill Aleshire, Attorney, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas
The FBI has even asked for any evidence of people “inciting” violence.
They released a statement that read in part, “We are committed to apprehending and charging violent instigators who are exploiting legitimate, peaceful protests and engaging in violations of federal law. The continued violence, potential threat to life, and destruction of property across the United States interferes with the rights and safety of First Amendment-protected peaceful demonstrators, as well as all other citizens.“
They asked people to submit tips, photos and videos “depicting violent encounters” online or by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324).
In Dallas, police launched a program for witnesses to submit videos of any illegal activity committed during the protests through their iWatch app, but hours later they reported the app had crashed. Social media users claimed people had flooded the app with unrelated content — arguing the app could endanger or frighten protesters and calling it a “snitch” app.
KXAN reached out to Austin Police to ask whether they are also using this type of witness video to investigate other instances of looting or burglary.
A spokesperson for the department said, “With every crime, the more evidence we have, the more likely we are to be able to do a thorough investigation. That evidence can include video, but it can also include DNA, fingerprints, witness statements, etc.”
Here’s APD’s policy on these kinds of videos:
If an officer has probable cause to believe that a camera or other recording device
contains images or sounds that are evidence of criminal acts, the officer shall request
that the person either:
- allow the officer to listen to or view the recording
- Voluntarily provide the device or recording medium (e.g., the memory chip) to the officer; or
- Where possible and practicable, and in the presence of the officer, voluntarily transmit the images or sound via electronic mail to the officer’s official government electronic mail account.
Officers can also obtain a warrant for the video or images, if a person declines. According to the policy, in some cases, if the officer believes there are circumstances where the evidence of criminal activity will be lost, the officer can take control of the device and contact a supervisor. The supervisor can decide, whether to move forward with a warrantless seizure of the device.
“The police must be mindful that the credibility of the evidence depends on being able to track where they got it, how they got it, who they got it from,” said Bill Aleshire, volunteer attorney with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “But the videos, if turned over to the police in the appropriate way, could be used in a prosecution, whether it’s police misconduct or protester misconduct.”
Still, he emphasized the importance of free speech — understanding that protesting is allowed and video of those protesters, if acting within their legal rights, shouldn’t be used against them.
“As long as they are not interfering in a government operation, like an arrest, they can video all they want.”
Austin Justice Coalition Executive Director Chas Moore said their group was calling for peaceful protests, but they did see other people using this moment of “black suffering” to go out and loot or steal. While he disagrees, he still thinks turning people over to law enforcement hurts the cause.
“I would highly suggest people do not turn any stuff like that into police. I think, even if you disagree with how people are protesting, it’s never safe to give away people’s identity or turn people in to the police, in this tense time we are in,” he said.
He said the exception would be if people are committing violence and hurting people.
“Unless it’s that egregious and is happening to another person — if you see something, don’t say something. Keep in mind that things can be replaced and people can’t,” Moore said.
Meanwhile, Mike Cargill said he was more than willing to turn over surveillance footage of six people attempting to break-in to his South Austin firearms shop, Central Texas Gun Works.
“This is not someone who was mad and just decided to break glass. This is someone that is taking advantage of the situation and what’s going on in downtown Austin and around the country and the state and they wanted to break into this store.”
Cargill said it happened in the early morning hours on Monday. He said in the video, the group looked organized and prepared, taking turns shooting at the door and handle.
His business, however, was protected with a metal garage sliding door behind the glass doors, along with security cameras. Cargill said he doesn’t want the guns he sells getting into unlicensed hands or to be used in a crime.
“I think what’s happening is law enforcement is busy dealing with the protests, so they are spread really thin,” he said. “They are attacking businesses because they know police are not here to stop what’s going on.”