AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last week, the group Street Medics Austin didn’t even exist.
Now, their name and members are coming out of the woodwork after the group says several of their volunteers were injured while trying to provide basic first aid services for people participating in the George Floyd and Mike Ramos protests in Austin over the weekend.
Maredith Drake, a 43 year-old volunteer firefighter and mom of three who decided to join the cause, is exhausted and home recovering from broken bones in her hand.
She said a bean bag round hit her hands — and knocked off her wedding ring in the process.
Drake said she was walking toward the police officers who were standing guard outside the front of the APD headquarters. She thought they were going to help the injured 20-year-old black man being carried behind her by other protesters, and some witnesses tell KXAN police officers had instructed the group to approach for help.
He was bleeding from the back of his head after several witnesses and the Austin police chief said he was shot with a bean bag round as well, and then fell to the ground and hit his head.
“My story is not important. It’s about the boy who was injured,” said Drake, who is not ready for an on-camera interview.
Chief Brian Manley addressed the incident for the first time Monday night, which he said was captured on a Halo police surveillance camera. Manley said a person standing next to the injured young man had thrown a water bottle and a backpack at the officers, and that’s when one of the officers decided to fire the less lethal ammunition, but it struck the wrong person.
Video taken by a bystander, who wants to remain anonymous, captured the moments following.
The 20-year-old protester is lying on his back on the ground as people come to his aid. You can hear a woman’s voice as she tries to speak calmly to a 911 dispatcher on her cell phone.
“Hi, I need an ambulance outside of the Austin…a man is bleeding from the back of his head,” she said.”He’s bleeding and he’s passing out.”
Drake can be seen in the video kneeling down beside the man. She is dressed in a t-shirt with large tape marking a medical cross on her back, chest and helmet.
The group lifts up his body and starts carrying him toward the front steps of the police department. Drake said she decided to walk in the front and hold her hands up to make her presence and intent known, and that’s when she said officers fired more bean bag rounds in their direction and she, too, was hit in the hands with a bean bag by APD.
“Maredith is recuperating, she’s pretty upset as you can well imagine,” said Toby Heidel, Operations Director for Street Medics Austin, who is also a long-time Austin firefighter. “She went down there with the best intentions and was providing aid and assistance, and you know for her actions she paid a price that I don’t think she should have paid.”
Street Medics Austin founder Brenton Donnell said Drake was one of about 20 to 30 people who volunteered their time over the weekend with the newly formed street medics team. Members range from people with basic first aid training up to firefighters, nurses, paramedics and doctors.
The original goal was simple: to keep weekend protesters healthy in the Austin heat, and help with the number of calls traditional paid paramedics might receive.
“I basically put it out to a bunch of friends on Facebook Friday night that I was going to go set up a first aid station and hand out water and sunscreen and Band-Aids,” said Donnell. “I did not expect to become a combat medic over the weekend.”
Donnell said others in their crew were also injured by bean bag rounds, but as far as they know Drake sustained the most serious injury.
Drake volunteered all day Saturday and Sunday up until she said she was rushed to Dell Seton Medical Center for treatment, the same hospital where Austin-Travis County EMS tell KXAN the young man was taken.
Many people on-scene thought the man was going to loose his life, but Chief Manley said Monday he was still fighting and remained in critical condition.
As of Tuesday morning, APD said it could not provide any more specifics about the patient’s condition.
Donnell said Street Medics Austin treated dozens of bean bag ammo injuries. As for pepper spray and tear gas in the eyes, the patient count was in the hundreds.
The new non-partisan team has no plans to stop. They’re getting more organized and said the community support has been overwhelming.