Charges dropped against protester accused of hitting APD horse

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – It took less than two weeks for the county’s top misdemeanor prosecutor to decide whether to continue prosecuting the State of Texas v. Jarrid Cornell. Austin Police arrested Cornell on May 31, accusing him of hitting a police horse with a protest sign.

The crime is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a year in a Texas prison and fines up to $4,000.

“We didn’t believe we could have ever proven it,” Travis County’s County Attorney David Escamilla told KXAN. “The horse more contacted him than he contacted the horse.”

Jarrid Cornell’s attorney provided a live streamed video showing the encounter between APD officers and his client during a May 31, 2020 protest that blocked both lanes of Interstate 35. (Courtesy Marc Chavez)

Escamilla said his office reviewed HALO, drone and body camera video of the May 31 encounter between Cornell and APD’s mounted horse unit in the lanes of Interstate 35. Protesters stormed the interstate and blocked it in both directions. Video shows Cornell kneeling in the interstate as APD’s horse unit marched toward him.

Cornell didn’t move and was pushed backward by two APD horses. Protesters were recording the encounter and live streaming the video online, Cornell’s attorney said.

“He was falsely accused of that,” Cornell’s attorney, Marc Chavez, told KXAN. “So, the county attorney has already rejected that. So, whether he’s accused of an act of violence, the county attorney saw fit to reject that case,” Marc Chavez said.

Chavez said he sent live-streamed video clips to Escamilla’s office to help convince prosecutors of his client’s innocence. The video is shot by an unidentified person who is standing in the lanes of Interstate 35 and traffic is sitting still. APD did not charge Cornell with obstructing a highway in the May 31 protest, according to county court records.

“In that video, it also shows my client on a knee with a sign protesting, officers on horseback approaching him as he’s on a knee and using the horses and their force to remove him from his knee and where he’s protesting,” Chavez said.

“So, it actually shows the officers initiating any type of contact with him,” Chavez added.

APD Officer Patrick Cheatham wrote in an affidavit dated May 31 that he saw Cornell “Striking the horse with a wooden stick with a card board sign attached to the stop on the shoulder and neck of the horse.”

Cheatham was riding the horse at the time.

Cheatham went on accuse Cornell of assaulting the horse and causing Cheatham to “lose control of the horse.” Cheatham’s version of the details is what led a judge to sign a warrant for Cornell’s arrest, charging him with one count of interference with a police service animal.

Prosecutors dismissed the charge 12 days later.

Cornell was arrested again on June 13, accused of blocking the I-35 service road outside APD headquarters during a Saturday night protest. Cornell tried to run from officers, according to an affidavit, but was stopped when another officer intercepted him and took him to the ground.

Witnesses claimed a third APD officer ran in to help handcuff Cornell and used his knee to help restrain him.

The use of force complaint related to Cornell’s June 13 arrest is currently under investigation by the city and his charges in that case are still pending.

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