Austin whittles 1,000+ officer complaints from protests down to 275 for review


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin is asking the Internal Affairs division to formally investigate 275 complaints of police officer misconduct during the Austin protests of late May.

There was overlap in these complaints, so it does not mean Internal Affairs will need to launch 275 separate investigations. A spokesperson for the city says it is still working to determine exactly how many investigations will result from these complaints.

Justin Howell (Courtesy: Howell family)

Seven claims relate to personal injury or property damage, and the city memo mentions by name Justin Howell, Brad Ayala and Saraneka Martin.

Austin police officers shot both Howell and Ayala in the head with “less lethal” beanbag rounds. The impact left Howell, a 20-year-old Texas State student, in critical condition.

Days after it happened, Ayala’s family says the 16-year-old’s injuries were so severe his doctors told them recovery will be a marathon.

On Friday, his sister told us Ayala’s recovery was going better than they ever hoped.

She added that he’s walking, talking and slowly ramping up activity. He has even gone back to work part-time.

Martin was three months pregnant and officers shot her in the stomach, also with the “less lethal” rounds. She said at the time she would have to undergo tests but that she did not have a miscarriage.

So far, the Austin Police Department has not identified the officers responsible in each of these shootings.

City hires team to sort through May police complaints

The city says there were more than 1,000 complaints stemming from the protests the weekend of May 29-31.

Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin had to hire a separate team of three complaint specialists and administrative support just to handle the complaints from that one weekend.

At least 25% of the total complaints related to one specific incident, but the City of Austin was not able to identify that incident Friday morning.

Types of complaints

The Austin Police Department will prepare an After Action Report (AAR) to outline and address the events that occurred that weekend.

The Office of Police Oversight has separated the complaints into 10 categories:

  • Complaints on officers involved with Justin Howell
  • Complaints on officers involved with Brad Ayala
  • Complaints on officers involved with Saraneka Martin
  • General Use of Force
  • Equipment and Tactics
  • Specifically Named Officers
  • Policy Recommendations
  • Gun Pointed at Press
  • Lack of De-escalation
  • Complaints that require additional information

Why time is of the essence

The clock is ticking for Internal Affairs to complete these investigations. There is a so-called “180 rule” in Texas law, which says an officer can only be disciplined for something that happened within the past six months. That includes temporary suspensions, demotions, or outright dismissals.

That’s usually not an issue for individual complaints, but with 275 formal complaints to investigate concurrently, it’s of greater concern now. Time runs out on Nov. 25 for Chief Brian Manley to punish any officer for conduct from Friday, May 29. Then there are two more deadlines on Nov. 26 and Nov. 27 for conduct on May 30 and May 31 respectively.

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