AUSTIN, Texas - Nearly two years after protests erupted in the streets of Austin in May 2020 following the death of George Floyd, 40 pages of indictments were released late Tuesday — charging 19 Austin Police Department officers each with two counts of aggravated assault.
The charges stem from allegations by 10 protestors that they were shot and injured by "bean bag rounds."
"We believe many of the protestors injured by law enforcement during these protests were innocent bystanders," Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza said last Thursday.
"They were commonly accepted tactics and a proper use of the bean bag that you can find anywhere across this country," said Ken Ervin, an attorney representing some indicted officers on Monday.
Bean bag rounds are less lethal than regular bullets, but some protesters named as victims in the indictment were hospitalized — one victim, Justin Howell, ending up in a coma.
"Less lethal munitions are only less lethal by technicality," Howell’s brother Josh said in June 2020.
"He assumed that police officers were going to protect him," said Edwin Sanchez, brother of Brad Ayala, a protestor named as a victim in the indictments.
Two of the protestors cited in the indictments, Howell and Anthony Evans, are the same men the city has already agreed to pay a combined $10 million in a separate federal lawsuit.
"This is broad overreach," Ervin said Monday.
The indictments are raising some eyebrows. Notably, nine different officers are charged with shooting one single protestor: Christen Warkoczewski.
"Mr. Garza simply indicted every officer who possibly fired in that direction," said Ervin.
Brad Heilman, an attorney for one of the officers, Det. Nicholas Gebhart, said in a statement Tuesday night: "I am not surprised at the wording of the indictment for my client. It is obvious DA Garza has interjected his personal animus for law enforcement’s approved uses of force. As for future indictments, I believe anything is possible as he procured indictments for 19 officers that obeyed lawful orders and followed APD policies on the use of non-lethal shotguns against rioters."
Doug O’Connell, an attorney for some officers, agreed Tuesday night telling FOX 7 he expected more indictments were possible.
Corby Jastrow, president of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, said in a newsletter Tuesday night: "There are legitimate questions about what evidence was presented to the grand jury. To ensure public confidence in the process, the district attorney should step aside and ask the court to appoint a special prosecutor for these cases."
A spokesperson for Garza’s office declined to comment further on the indictments Tuesday night.