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Austin police officers facing indictments over their use of force during racial justice protests two years ago are suing the city, saying they didn’t receive training on how to use the “less than lethal” rounds employed during the demonstrations and that city officials knew the rounds were defective.
When protesters flooded the streets of Austin in May 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, Austin police officers used 12-gauge shotguns to fire beanbag rounds — small cloth baggies filled with #9 lead — on demonstrators. Several people were seriously wounded and sued the city, resulting in over $13 million in settlements.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, five officers — Joshua Jackson, Rolan Rast, Todd Gilbertson, Derrick Lehman and Alexander Lomovstev — said they received “limited or no training” about the beanbag rounds. Police officers across units were asked to respond to the protests, including patrolmen and detectives with little training on riot response, the lawsuit says.
The suit also says the city knew the rounds were defective and dangerous and “did nothing to remove them from service.” A spokesperson for Justin Berry, one of the officers who was indicted and who ran for Texas House District 19 earlier this year, has said the beanbags were “old,” “hardened” and “had been sitting in boxes for too long.”
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon has previously said the beanbag rounds used in the May 2020 protests were defective. The department has said it would stop using them in crowd situations.
Austin police have previously described beanbag rounds as a “less lethal” weapon. But in their lawsuit, the five officers said the beanbag manufacturers “created a dangerous product that impacted like a slug rather than [a nonlethal] munition.”
The officers are seeking over $1 million in compensation for the physical injuries, post-traumatic stress and lost wages that resulted from their involvement in the protests and what they are calling negligent leadership.
The lawsuit also names activist groups as defendants, including Black Lives Matter and the Austin Justice Coalition, for encouraging “rioting, looting and violence.”
The officers are among the 19 indicted by a Travis County grand jury in February and facing aggravated assault charges over their actions during the protests. The charges are a first-degree felony when committed by law enforcement and are punishable by five to 99 years in prison or a fine of up to $10,000.
The indictments accuse the officers of using deadly weapons to injure demonstrators and threatening them with serious bodily injury. Almost all the officers’ cases involve protesters who were hit by beanbag rounds, according to Travis County district attorney’s office documents.
Austin officials have agreed to four settlements this year with protesters injured by beanbag rounds. Demonstrator Justin Howell will receive $8 million — the highest amount ever awarded in an excessive force case involving an Austin police officer, the Austin-American Statesman reported. Anthony Evans will get $2 million; Brad Levi Ayala will get $2.95 million; Maredith Drake will get $850,000.
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