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Sources: 19 Austin police officers charged in protest investigation |  KTA

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas grand jury has indicted 19 Austin police officers with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for their actions during the 2020 protests against racial injustice that spread across the country after the murder of George Floyd, according to people familiar with the matter.

Several people spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly. Austin Police Association President Ken Cassidy confirmed that 19 officers were facing charges, but did not have details.

It ranks among the most numerous indictments against a single police department in the United States for tactics used by officers during the widespread protests – methods that led to the resignation or ousting of several chiefs police across the country.

News of the indictments came hours after Austin city leaders approved the payment of $10 million to two people injured by police during the protests, including a student who suffered brain damage. after an officer shot him with a bean bag.

Combined, the charges and settlements have allowed the conservative liberal Texas capital of 960,000 people to take some of its biggest moves as criticism still simmers over its handling of the protests, which has intensified pressure on the leader of then-policeman Brian Manley, only to resign.

Jose Garza, the district attorney for Travis County, which includes Austin, spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon about the grand jury investigation but offered no details about it, including how many officers are facing. to charges and for what crimes.

“Our community is safer when our community trusts law enforcement. When they believe law enforcement is upholding that law and protecting the people who live here,” Garza said. have confidence if there is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law.”

A spokesman for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, Ismael Martinez, declined to comment on the number of officers charged and referred reporters to Garza’s comments.

Prosecutors have not identified any of the officers charged. Texas law requires that an indictment remain secret until an officer has been arrested. Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, when committed by a public official, can be punishable by up to life in prison.

Cassidy, the president of the Austin Police Association, called the decision “devastating” for law enforcement in the city, but also said he was confident no officers would be convicted. He criticized Garza, calling the investigation politically motivated.

“DA Garza ran on a platform to charge police officers and didn’t miss an opportunity to ruin lives and careers just to fulfill a campaign promise,” Cassidy said.

Garza said his office pursues anyone who causes harm “no matter who causes it.”

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon, who took the job after Manley left, said he respected the grand jury process but was “extremely disappointed” to hear from the district attorney. announce the anticipated indictments of its officers.

Chacon pointed out that his staff prepared officers to face hundreds of people as thousands showed up for protests he called sometimes “just and violent”.

“I am not aware of any conduct which, having regard to the circumstances in which the officers were working, would amount to the level of a criminal offense on the part of these officers,” Chacon said.

But bean bag rounds fired by officers have not always performed “in the manner intended”, Chacon said, and his agency now prohibits the use of “less lethal ammunition in crowd control situations”.

The settlements approved Thursday are among the largest paid out to those injured by police across the United States in massive protests following Floyd’s death.

The largest of Austin’s settlements is giving $8 million to Justin Howell, who was 20 when police shot him with a bean bag. Family members told the AP following the incident that Howell suffered a fractured skull and brain damage, leaving him in critical condition for several days.

The city will also pay $2 million to Anthony Evans, who was 26 when an Austin police officer shot him with a bean bag in a separate incident, which resulted in extensive medical treatment to his jaw.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the settlements “remind us of a really difficult and painful time in our city.” A representative for the Howell family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s the latest reflection of how, two years after protests swept the country, cities are still dealing with injuries and the tactics used by police. Earlier this month, prosecutors announced charges against two Dallas police officers accused of injuring protesters after firing less-lethal ammunition.

After the protests in Austin, then-police chief Manley later said Howell was not the intended target after an altercation in a crowd, which he said involved people who had thrown objects on a row of officers. Authorities said this led to officers firing into the mass of protesters from above.

David Frost, who captured on video the moments after Howell was shot, told the AP he saw protesters throw fist-sized rocks and water bottles at the line of police on an overpass. Then he saw Howell fall. He was bleeding profusely and had a seizure, Frost said at the time.

The settlements are the second and third payments awarded among a dozen lawsuits filed in Austin that allege injuries during the protests. Earlier this month, The Austin American-Statesman reported that a $150,000 settlement had been approved for a woman named Ariana Chavez, who was shot in the head with a less-lethal ammunition resulting in a concussion.

At least 19 people have been hospitalized in Austin following the protests.

Eleven officers were disciplined for their actions during the early summer protests, and seven other officers were placed on administrative duty.

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AP writer Terry Wallace and Bleiberg contributing to this report from Dallas.

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