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The prosecutor in the Texas capital on Monday dismissed 17 indictments against Austin police officers for tactics used against demonstrators in connection to the 2020 George Floyd protests, but city officials are calling for a federal investigation into the Police Department.
Travis County District Attorney José Garza on Monday said his office will be moving forward with the prosecution of four officers while asking the Justice Department to open an investigation into the others.
In a joint letter to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Austin leaders asked Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke to have the agency conduct a “pattern-or-practice” investigation into the Austin Police Department over its crowd control actions during protests following the death of Floyd in Minnesota and Mike Ramos in Austin.
A Travis County jury later returned indictments against more than 20 officers in connection with the protests.
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The letter said police used “less lethal” bean bag rounds to control crowds and protect property during the demonstrations. However, the officers caused serious injury to protesters and community members, said the letter signed by Austin Mayor Kirk Wilson, DA Garza and City Manager Jesus Garza.
The city has paid out more than $18 million to resolve civil lawsuits related to the protests, the letter said. Eight civil suits remain pending, FOX Austin reported.
“No parent should fear that if their child chooses to voice their First Amendment right to assemble peacefully, they will walk away with serious bodily injury caused by the very person called upon to protect them,” DA Garza said. “We expect the Department of Justice will take our request seriously, and we look forward to working with Mayor Watson, Interim APD Chief Robin Henderson, and City Council to ensure full cooperation with the DOJ investigation. We will also continue to hold law enforcement who break the law accountable.”
Lawyers Doug O’Connell and Ken Ervin, who represent the officers, said they weren’t surprised that many indictments were dismissed.
“We’ve been anticipating this from the very beginning of the case. This case was political from the outset,” O’Connell said. “We said very, very early on that this might constitute a viable civil lawsuit against the city based on the degraded and out-of-date ammunition, the less lethal beanbag shotgun rounds. This was never a criminal case and never should have been indicted.”
In a statement, Austin Police Officer Justin Berry said he was grateful that he is no longer being prosecuted, but said DA Garza campaigned on prosecuting police officers from the outset.
“José Garza has known for a long time now that none of us violated any law, yet carried on with his personal punishment,” Berry wrote. “José Garza it’s time to smarten up and stop your infatuation with persecuting innocent police officers and release your vindictive hold on the other 5 officers still suffering from your tyranny.”