Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT
Thursday, November 12, 2020 by Andrew Weber

Another protester files suit over APD’s use of ‘less-lethal’ rounds. That’s the second this week.

The Austin Police Department is facing yet another lawsuit over its use of less-lethal rounds during protests this summer.

A complaint filed on behalf of Steven Arawn accuses an unidentified officer of excessive force for using a so-called beanbag round against him, striking him in the hand and seriously injuring him on May 30.

Arawn, who attended protests against police violence and racism after the deaths of George Floyd and Mike Ramos, was acting as a street medic when he was shot, the complaint alleges. As he was assisting someone who was hit with a beanbag round on the side of Interstate 35, the unnamed officer shot him in the wrist and hand.

Months later, Arawn still hasn’t regained full use of his hand, according to the complaint. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Arawn by Austin attorney Jeff Edwards, is seeking damages for medical expenses.

APD has said it’s working with the Office of Police Oversight and the city’s Law Department to review each claim of excessive force as it relates to less-lethal ammunition.

The complaint also levels allegations of negligence against Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, suggesting he shouldn’t have allowed officers to use the rounds in crowds and that the officer involved in the incident has not been disciplined.

“(Manley) adopted policies that authorized or tolerated this unreasonable, unnecessary and brutally excessive force even though Manley had long known of the dangers of firing projectiles into crowds, at defenseless persons, and from significant distances,” the complaint reads. “Despite this, Austin Police Department policies – and Manley – authorized their use and continued use.”

The ammunition, which is fired from a shotgun and contains bags of silica or lead birdshot, is inaccurate at long ranges and, by one manufacturer’s admission, carries the same impact as a .22-caliber bullet.

After Brad Ayala, 16, and Justin Howell, 20, sustained brain damage after being shot in the head with the rounds, Manley said the department would no longer use the rounds for crowd control.

Despite that pledge, the department has continued to restock its cache of the munitions, according to an investigation by KUT and The Trace.

The federal lawsuit is one of a handful filed against the department – and one of two filed this week – for its use of ammunition marketed as less lethal.

The other suit was filed on behalf of Sam Kirsch, who was hit in the eye with a less-lethal round, also on May 30.

Another street medic, Maredith Drake, filed suit after she was shot in the hand on May 31 while attempting to assist Howell. Demonstrator Anthony Evans is suing the department for excessive force, claiming an officer shot him on May 30 while his hands were raised.

The department has suspended seven officers for use of force in protest-related incidents on May 30-31.

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

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