Photo by Michael Minasi / KUT
Wednesday, December 2, 2020 by Andrew Weber

Another demonstrator sues APD after she says she was shot in the head with ‘less-lethal’ ammunition

Another demonstrator has filed a federal lawsuit against the Austin Police Department and an unidentified police officer over the use of so-called less-lethal rounds.

Arianna Chavez filed a complaint in federal court last week, alleging the officer used excessive force when he shot her in the back of the head with a “dangerous projectile” during the May 31 protest over police violence and the killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos.

Filed on Nov. 25, the complaint says Chavez “posed no threat to anyone” during the protest and that she “was not even facing the officer” when she was shot with the projectile.

The complaint alleges the officer’s use of force violated Chavez’s civil rights and that she sustained “a serious head wound, head trauma and a concussion” because of the incident.

The city’s Law Department and APD have said they are monitoring complaints and lawsuits and working with complainants.

Chavez’s suit is one of six the department is facing in federal court over officers’ use of impact munitions to control crowds on May 30 and 31. The ammunition includes so-called beanbag rounds, which are filled with lead or silica-based birdshot and fired from a shotgun, and foam batons, which are 40-millimeter shells tipped with foam and fired from grenade launchers. The complaint does not specify which projectile was fired at Chavez.

The Austin Police Department limited its use of the impact rounds in June after two protesters, Brad Ayala and Justin Howell, were severely injured when officers shot them in the head with the rounds. By APD’s admission, both Ayala and Howell were peacefully demonstrating. After community backlash, Police Chief Brian Manley limited officers’ use of the rounds in crowd control, but some uses are still permissible under APD’s guidelines.

An investigation by KUT and The Trace in November found, despite concerns over the use of the rounds, the department had restocked its cache of both beanbag and foam baton rounds after its pledge to limit their use.

The rounds can be inaccurate at long distances and lethal when used at close range.

According to an August letter to the New England Journal of Medicine from trauma physicians at Ascension Seton Hospital who treated demonstrators that weekend, the rounds caused skull fractures, and in some instances, became lodged in patients’ heads.

So far, APD has suspended seven officers for their use of force in incidents on May 30 and 31.

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

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Austin Police Department: the law enforcement entity for the City of Austin.

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