AUSTIN, Texas - Two protestors were seriously injured this weekend after being hit with bean bag rounds by Austin police. That, as well as the use of tear gas to clear crowds from I-35 on Sunday, have many asking questions about police policies during demonstrations.
It’s not just the protestors questioning the response by police last weekend. Austin City Council said they plan to hold hearings this week to discuss police tactics used by officers and even police Chief Brian Manley said he’s reviewing department policies.
“I’m crushed,” said Manley referring to the protestors injured over the weekend.
The Austin police chief explained the response by officers standing guard in front of police headquarters and surrounding areas.
“I’ve already met with the head of my tactical team this morning to discuss our tactics and any changes that we should make based on the occurrences of this weekend,” Manley said.
Manley said two men were critically injured after being struck in the head by bean bag rounds fired by officers at the scene. Those cases are under investigation by the department and the office of police oversight, as is the use of a bean bag round that hit a pregnant woman in the stomach.
Manley said the use of less-lethal rounds was in response to instigators who infiltrated protests in order to commit violence, but they didn’t always hit the right person. “Officers here at headquarters had many objects that were thrown. They constituted bottles, rocks, fireworks, and the like. So this was protesting that we have not seen here before in Austin,” said Manley.
Get breaking news alerts in the FOX 7 Austin News app. It is FREE!
15 police officers were injured during the weekend protests, though all of their injuries are considered minor. In several of those cases, police responded with pepper spray or bean bag rounds. As protestors blocked traffic on I-35 and did not comply with demands to leave, officers turned to smoke cylinders and tear gas to clear the highway.
“We needed the protesters to evacuate and get off IH-35. It is not safe for them, it is not safe for motorists traveling I-35 who have to come to an immediate and abrupt stop because the road has been unnecessarily closed, so that was our efforts there,” Manley said.
Austin City Council members, like Greg Casar, want to make sure the response by officers was and will be warranted without escalating the situation. Council said they will call for emergency hearings this week to discuss protestors' demands and police tactics.
“It’s important for us to be able to get all the information, for us to be able to get testimony from people, from the police department, to be able to explain, what was a very challenging and very dynamic situation for them, to be able to explain how it is that we handle these situations and for us to see how well it matched up to policing policy,” said Casar.
While Council does not direct police policies, they hope to help officers find ways to keep the peace and stop any violence without injuring those demonstrating responsibly.
“We want there to be accountability for anything that happened that wasn’t right and we need to be able to make sure that we do things better moving forward,” Casar said.
Council hopes to hold the first emergency hearing Thursday, following the scheduled council meeting. If need be, they will continue it on Friday.