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Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Austin police identify officers under investigation for injuring protesters during demonstrations

Monday, June 29, 2020 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

The Austin Police Department has named five officers it says may be responsible for seriously injuring people demonstrating during the first weekend of protests against systemic racism and police violence.

The following officers have been put on paid administrative leave, as is APD policy, while the incidents are under investigation:

  • Nicholas Gebhart, 7.5 years with APD
  • Kyu An, 3.5 years with APD
  • Kyle Felton, 1 year with APD
  • Derrick Lehman, 10 years with APD
  • John Siegel, 3.5 years with APD

At least two protesters were seriously injured by police the last weekend of May, as hundreds of people protested the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos in Austin. Police fired bags filled with lead pellets at demonstrators, hitting several people in the head.

Police Chief Brian Manley said earlier this month the department is investigating a total of 10 incidents in which police are accused of injuring protesters.

Justin Howell, 20, was one of two people critically injured after being hit by lead-pellet bags. His brother, Joshua, spoke with KUT after the incident, calling on the department to halt the use of the ammunition that’s billed as “less lethal.”

“If it’s less lethal than a bullet, that’s a low bar,” he said. “Anything fired out of a shotgun at 90 miles an hour can be lethal.”

In an op-ed this week, the Texas A&M graduate student repeated that call and said his brother had been transferred to a long-term rehabilitation facility after three weeks in intensive care.

Brad Levi Ayala, 16, was shot in the head with a lead-pellet bag. His brother told City Council earlier this month that the injury had damaged a part of his brain and he was in a lot of pain and having trouble controlling his emotions.

APD did not provide any additional information Friday, such as which officers were involved in which incidents or whether the officers listed were responsible for all of the injuries caused by police during protests. An APD spokesperson said the department likely would not be identifying which officers were responsible for which injuries out of a concern for the officers’ safety.

However, Council Member Greg Casar said APD told him that the list did include the names of the officers who shot Ayala and Howell. Casar said he was disappointed by the lack of information APD released Friday.

“It still falls short of the level of transparency the public deserves,” he told KUT, adding that the department should have also released a timeline of the investigations.

Andrew Weber contributed to this report. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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