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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT. Austin police officers clear demonstrators from I-35 on May 31, 2020. Hundreds took over the highway during a protest of the police killing of George Floyd.

Here’s what we know about APD officers facing charges for using beanbag rounds in 2020 protests

Tuesday, February 22, 2022 by Andrew Weber, KUT

Nineteen Austin police officers face criminal charges for the use of so-called “less lethal” ammunition on demonstrators during racial justice protests in 2020.

Police use of the lead-pellet bags, which were fired from shotguns, severely injured protesters, at least 19 of whom were hospitalized.

The officers have been indicted on charges of aggravated assault by a public servant, a felony punishable by anywhere from five to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The officers turned themselves in to the Travis County jail and were released on bond, according to the sheriff’s office.

Travis County District Attorney José Garza released the indictments in 20 cases Tuesday.

Nineteen of the cases involve the use of beanbag rounds on protesters; one involves an officer who struck a demonstrator with a foam-tipped round fired from a 40 mm launcher.

Some of the indicted officers fired the beanbag rounds at protesters in an attempt to control the crowd and others were supervising officers, according to Ken Ervin, a lawyer representing eight of the officers.

At a news conference Monday, Ervin said the cases he’s handling all stem from the clearing of Interstate 35 during protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos. He said the use of beanbag rounds to clear the highway was appropriate.

“It’s consistent with not only training within the department, but within other law enforcement agencies across the country,” he said. “If there is an issue with the use of beanbag rounds in this situation, that needs to be handled on a different level. It is unfair and entirely improper to use criminal indictments to try to effect some sort of change in a use-of-force policy.” Garza said last week that his office considers the demonstrators involved in these cases to be “innocent bystanders” and that officers were using deadly weapons.

Austin Police Department Chief Joseph Chacon called news of the indictments extremely disappointing. Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk said in a statement that the city “did not believe that criminal indictments of the officers working under very difficult circumstances is the correct outcome.”

Attorney Doug O’Connell, who is also representing officers, said Monday the officers were acting within APD’s use-of-force guidelines. He said, however, that some of the protester injuries were “regrettable” and should be settled in civil court, not in criminal court.

“There very well may be righteous civil law, civil personal injury cases,” he said. “That’s not what’s going on here. These are criminal indictments where these officers face up to 99 years, or life, in prison.”

O’Connell said the officers are expected to be put on administrative duty while the cases move forward, and that he and Ervin plan to take their clients’ cases to a jury trial.

Austin City Council last week approved $10 million to settle the civil cases of two protesters who were injured.

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday has called the investigation politically motivated. One of the officers indicted, Justin Berry, is a Republican candidate for the Texas House.

“We think, again, the DA is just playing politics,” Casaday said Friday. His police union and other police advocacy groups made similar accusations about other police investigations by Garza’s office. Six prior investigations have resulted in officers being indicted.

Garza, a Democrat, ran on a progressive platform to prosecute police misconduct. On Thursday, he described the facts discovered during this investigation as “disturbing.”

First, we believe many protesters injured by law enforcement officers during the protest were innocent bystanders,” he said. “We also believe that the overwhelming majority of victims in the incidents that were investigated suffered significant and lasting injuries. Those injuries include significant and serious injuries to the head, face and body. Some will never fully recover.”

The district attorney’s office has said the investigation into the use of force is ongoing.

Below is a list of the 19 indicted officers.

Nicholas Gebhart was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Gebhart is accused of shooting Brad Levi Ayala with a beanbag round during a protest on May 30, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond.

Kyu An was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. An is accused of shooting Bomani Barton with a beanbag round during a protest on May 30, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond.

Derrick Lehman was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Lehman is accused of shooting Ge Micah Volter-Jones with a beanbag round during a protest on May 30, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 21 and released the same day on bond.

Eric Heim was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Heim is accused of shooting Alyssa Sanders with a 40 mm foam-tipped round during a protest on May 30, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 21 and released the same day on bond.

Edward Boudreau was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Boudreau is accused of shooting Ge Micah Volter-Jones with a beanbag round during a protest on May 30, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond.

Joseph Cast was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Cast is accused of shooting Meredith Williams with a beanbag round during a protest on May 30, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 21 and released on bond. Williams sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

John Siegel was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Siegel is accused of shooting Nicole Underwood with a beanbag round during a protest on May 30, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released on bond. Underwood sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

Kyle Felton was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony, in two separate incidents. Felton is accused of shooting Anthony Evans with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. He’s also accused of shooting Justin Howell with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Austin City Council approved $10 million in settlements for both Howell and Evans’ civil cases against the city and APD last week.

The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond.

Jeffrey Teng was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Teng is accused of shooting Justin Howell with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond. The Austin City Council approved an $8 million settlement in Howell’s civil suit against the city last week.

Rolan Rast was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Rast is accused of shooting Sam Kirsch with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond. Kirsch sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over his injury.

Justin Berry was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Berry is accused of shooting Christen Warkoczewski with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond. Warkoczewski sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

Alexander Lomostev was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Lomovstev is accused of shooting Christen Warkoczewski with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond. Warkoczewski sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

Todd Gilbertson was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Gilbertson is accused of shooting Christen Warkoczewski with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 21 and released on bond. Warkoczewski sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

Stanley Vick was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Vick is accused of shooting Christen Warkoczewski with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond. Warkoczewski sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

Christian Irwin was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Irwin is accused of shooting Christen Warkoczewski with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. Attorneys representing Irwin say he was booked and released the same day on bond. Warkoczewski sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

Jeremy Fisher was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Fisher is accused of shooting Christen Warkoczewski with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 21 and released on bond. Warkoczewski sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

Joshua Jackson was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Jackson is accused of shooting Christen Warkoczewski with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 18 and released the same day on bond. Warkoczewski sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

Josh Blake was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Blake is accused of shooting Christen Warkoczewski with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 21 and released on bond. Warkoczewski sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

Brett Tableriou was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Tableriou is accused of shooting Christen Warkoczewski with a beanbag round during a protest on May 31, 2020. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT he was booked on Feb. 21 and released on bond. Warkoczewski sued the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department over her injury.

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

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