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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT. Austin police officers stand on I-35, where protesters gathered during a demonstration against racism and police brutality on May 31.

Austin protester sues officer for shooting him in the face with ‘less-lethal’ round

Wednesday, October 21, 2020 by Andrew Weber, KUT

An Austinite who was shot by a police officer with a so-called less-lethal shotgun round during a protest this summer is suing the officer and the Austin Police Department in federal court.

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of Anthony Evans alleges the unidentified officer used excessive force when he shot Evans in the face as he was walking away from protests with his hands up on May 31, fracturing his jaw.

Evans is also suing the department for continuing to use the ammunition, which contains lead pellets and is fired from a shotgun, after officers seriously injured protesters at demonstrations days earlier. Protests against police violence and systemic racism erupted in Austin this summer after the killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos.

The department says it has pared back its use of the ammunition, which is responsible for seriously injuring several protesters, including Brad Ayala and Justin Howell, both of whom suffered brain trauma after being shot in the head by officers during protests. Days after backlash over the injuries, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said the department would not use the rounds to control large crowds.

Evans’ attorney, Jeff Edwards, said Manley and the department should have immediately discontinued the use of the beanbag rounds after they learned officers’ use of the rounds had led to serious injury.

“Anthony Evans was shot on the evening of May 31 after multiple people had been shot in the head with these so-called beanbag rounds and had suffered devastating injuries, including serious brain injuries,” Edwards said. “And that the leadership at APD allowed that to happen, and, in fact, authorized it, expressly authorized it, and designed it to happen is unconscionable.”

In the lawsuit, Edwards cites the department’s historically disproportionate use of force against people of color and high-profile allegations of racism within the department last year as evidence that the department violated Evans’ constitutional rights.

Edwards is also representing Maredith Drake, a street medic whose hand was severely injured after an officer shot her at close range as she attempted to get medical assistance for Howell the night of May 31.

In a written statement, a spokesperson said the city is continuing to review claims of police violence in May.

“Because there were many individuals involved in the events, it takes time to sort through everything,” the spokesperson said. “The Police Department, along with the Office of Police Oversight and the Law Department will review each claim, and the city will work directly with the individual protesters and their lawyers.”

All told, Austin’s Office of Police Oversight, the third-party office that oversees use-of-force complaints, said 895 people complained of the department’s use of force between May 29 and June 10. Of those, the office called for the department to formally investigate 272 incidents.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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