By: Christopher Otubu

Truenewsblog -. More than a year after a Minnesota police officer killed George Floyd, a Texas grand jury has indicted 19 Austin police officers with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon over their actions during the 2020 racial injustice protests that broke out after the killing of George Floyd spread nationwide. Austin Police Assn. President Ken Cassidy confirmed that 19 officers face charges but gave no further details.

The charges against a single US police department are among the most common over tactics employed by officers during the nationwide protests – methods that have led to the resignation or firing of several police chiefs across the country.

The indictment came hours after Austin city leaders approved paying $10 million to two people injured by police at the protests, including a college student who suffered brain damage after an officer shot him with a beanbag.

The indictments and settlements combined meant that Austin, the liberal capital of conservative Texas, took some of its most sweeping measures as criticism of the handling of the protests simmered, increasing pressure on then-Police Chief Brian Manley to resign.

Jose Garza, the Travis County District Attorney, which includes Austin, spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon about the grand jury investigation but gave no details, including how many officers were charged and for what alleged crimes.

“Our community is safer when our community trusts enforcement, when they believe law enforcement is following this law and protecting the people who live here,” Garza said. “There can be no trust if there is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law.” Prosecutors have not identified any of the defendants. Texas law requires that an indictment remain classified until an officer is arrested.

Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon if committed by an officer could carry a life sentence: Cassidy, the Austin Police Assn. The president called the move “devastating” for law enforcement in the city and said he was confident no officer would be convicted. He criticized Garza and called the investigation politically motivated.

“Garza ran a platform to impeach cops and didn’t miss an opportunity to ruin lives and careers just to make good on a campaign promise,” Cassidy said.

Garza said his office prosecutes anyone who causes harm “regardless of who causes it.” Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon, who took over the job after Manley left, said he respected the grand jury’s procedure but was “extremely disappointed” when the prosecutor announced expected charges against his officers.

Chacon stressed that his command staff prepared officers to face hundreds of people as thousands turned out at protests, which he described as “righteous and violent” at times.

“I am not aware of any behavior that would approach the level of criminal violation by those officers given the circumstances in which the officers worked,” Chacon said.

But beanbag rounds fired by officers didn’t always work “as expected,” Chacon said, and his agency now bans the use of “less-lethal munitions in crowd control situations.”

The settlements approved Thursday are among the largest payments to people injured by police across the United States during the massive protests following Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

The largest of the Austin settlements gives $8 million to Justin Howell, who was 20 when police shot him with a bean bag chair. Family members told Truenews after the incident Howell suffered a fractured skull and brain damage, leaving him in critical condition for several days.

The city is also paying $2 million to Anthony Evans. He was 26 when an Austin police officer shot him with a bean bag chair in another incident, prompting extensive medical attention to his jaw.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the settlements “remind us of a really difficult and painful moment in our city.”

It’s the latest reflection on how cities are still dealing with police violations and tactics to contain them, two years after the protests that swept the country. Earlier this month, prosecutors announced charges against two Dallas police officers accused of injuring protesters after they fired less-lethal ammunition.

After the Austin protests, Manley said Howell was not the intended target when officers fired into a crowd following an altercation in which Howell said people threw objects at a number of officers.

Authorities said this led to officers firing from above at the crowd of protesters. David Frost, who captured the moments after Howell’s shooting on video, told the Truenewsblog he saw protesters on an overpass throw fist-sized rocks and water bottles at the police line. Then he saw Howell fall. The young man bled profusely and suffered a seizure, Frost said at the time.

The settlements are the second and third payments in a dozen lawsuits filed in Austin alleging violations from 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 less-lethal ammunition, resulting in concussion.

At least 19 people have been hospitalized following the Austin protests. Eleven officers were disciplined for their actions during the protests and seven other officers were transferred to administrative duties.

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