AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said he’s advised all officers to stop using less lethal shotguns after the Travis County District Attorney’s Office expressed legal concerns. obtained an internal email sent to department members by the APD chief of staff. The message read that all sworn personnel, “will cease the use of less lethal shotguns.”

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office has recently addressed APD about concerns surrounding the devices’ “pattern of use and legal implications,” according to the email. obtained a letter dated July 28, 2023 from District Attorney Jose Garza to Chacon that shared his concerns.

In it, Garza said his office, City of Austin senior officials, and Chacon gathered earlier that month to discuss the use of modified munitions on a minor.

The incident happened in the summer of 2021. APD officers executed an arrest warrant for a shooting suspect at an Austin home. The suspect was arrested without incident, but while officers executed a search warrant for the home, one officer fired a modified munition at the minor, striking her upper thigh.

The DA’s letter goes on to say that based on the officer’s conduct during the execution of the warrants, it is likely that a grand jury would have found probable cause to charge two officers involved. Those crimes included deadly conduct, assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and official oppression.

“It is the expectation of the TCDAO that the City will use this incident as an opportunity to examine and address its training and policies governing the use of shotguns with modified munitions,” Garza wrote in the letter.

Austin Police Chief says department is weighing decision on less lethal shotguns

Chacon said he and the TCDOA are looking into APD’s policies on less lethal shotguns. However, he said the decision to bring the modified munitions back is his call to make.

“Until we can kind of get all of these things ironed out we’re not wanting to put the department, the city, our officers in jeopardy. I made the decision that we were going to go ahead and cease their use, at least temporarily,” Chacon said.

He explained that the weapons are 12-gauge shotguns that fire individual rounds, and while less likely to result in death, can still occasionally result in a fatality.

Unlike traditional shotgun shells that contain pellets that spray upon impact, these small lead pellets are contained inside a fabric pillow. They are often referred to as “beanbag rounds.”

Chief Chacon said he banned the use of less lethal shotguns for crowd control after officers fired them into crowds during riots in 2020. He said the department still used the beanbag rounds as a de-escalation method for other calls.

“When we take that weapon away from our officers, then that’s just one tool that we’ve taken away that might have otherwise been able to resolve a fatal encounter without it becoming fatal. So we want to get it done as quickly as we can,” Chacon said.

Lawyer of minor shot says change is needed

Attorney Jeff Edwards says he’s represented 15 people that have been injured by APD officers using less lethal shotguns in the last three years. He said many of those cases stemmed from the 2020 riots.

“We represented a young man that now has a brain injury. He’ll never be the same again,” Edwards said.

Edwards is representing the minor injured in the incident cited in Garza’s letter. He said the girl was 15 years old at the time of the shooting.

He said his client was walking out of the home backward with her hands up as police instructed. Edwards said the girl tripped and turned around to catch herself from falling, that is when she was allegedly shot with the modified munition.

“I have to believe because officers are poorly trained or improperly trained, or because no one seems to hold accountable officers when they misuse these weapons. This officer felt empowered to shoot this little girl,” Edwards said.

Edwards said more training is needed by APD officers on these less lethal shotguns.

“This device may have a proper use. The problem is they’re repeatedly over the last three years used when no one was in any danger,” Edwards said.