Texas Gov. Abbott floats clemency for indicted Austin police officers

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is floating the possibility of clemency for 19 Austin police officers indicted for their actions during racial justice protests in May 2020.

In his first public statement on the indictments, Abbott said Wednesday that officers "should be praised for their efforts, not prosecuted" saying in full:

"Last year, Austin set an all-time record for the number of murders. It comes as no surprise that murders increased after Austin decreased funding for law enforcement. In Texas, we do not defund and denigrate our law enforcement officers. Instead we support them for risking their own lives and safety to protect our communities from people who endanger and attack our communities. In 2020, Texas experienced violent protests that wreaked havoc on our cities. In Austin, law enforcement officers defended the state Capitol from criminal assault, protected the Austin Police Department headquarters from being overrun, cleared the interstate from being shut down, and disrupted criminal activity in areas across the city. Many officers were physically attacked while protecting Austin. Those officers should be praised for their efforts, not prosecuted. Time will tell whether the accusations against the courageous Austin police officers is a political sham. Time will also tell whether I, as Governor, must take action to exonerate any police officer unjustly prosecuted."

Nearly two years after protests erupted in the streets of Austin following the death of George Floyd, 40 pages of indictments were released late Tuesday — charging 19 officers each with two counts of aggravated assault. The charges stem from allegations by 10 protestors that they were shot and injured by "bean bag rounds."

Bean bag rounds are less lethal than regular bullets, but some protesters named as victims in the indictment were hospitalized — one victim, Justin Howell, ending up in a coma.

Two of the protestors cited in the indictments, Howell and Anthony Evans, are the same men the city has already agreed to pay a combined $10 million in a separate federal lawsuit. The city says the amounts stem from their need for ongoing and long-term care.

Howell was shot in the head with a bean bag round by an Austin police officer at a protest on May 31, 2020. He had been filming a protest at APD headquarters on his cellphone. Former Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at the time that HALO camera footage shows a man standing near Howell throwing a water bottle, then a backpack at officers.

While attending a Black Lives Matter demonstration on May 31, 2020, an APD officer shot Evans in the head with a beanbag shotgun round while Evans was attempting to leave the demonstration. Evans was seriously wounded, and required surgery to repair his broken jaw.

Another victim cited in the indictment was then-16-year-old Brad "Levi" Ayala. He had been shot in the head with a bean bag round, causing severe brain damage and leading him to be hospitalized, according to his brother Edwin who spoke during an Austin City Council meeting about the protest in June 2020.

The Austin Police Department (APD) confirmed earlier this month that the indicted officers will be placed on administrative leave. As part of this, the officers will not take 911 calls, make arrests, have a firearm, or work overtime or additional jobs.

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