Travis County and City of Austin Seek DOJ Review of 2020 Protest Actions; Legal Action Against Four Officers to Proceed

Travis County and City of Austin Seek DOJ Review of 2020 Protest Actions; Legal Action Against Four Officers to Proceed

In a joint announcement on Monday, December 4, 2023, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office (TCDAO) and the City of Austin (COA) revealed that they have sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division (DOJ), inviting a review of the Austin Police Department’s actions during the protests of 2020. The move aims to enhance transparency and address concerns regarding the use of force by law enforcement officers.

Following original felony indictments stemming from the May 2020 protests, the District Attorney’s Office will pursue the prosecution of four Austin Police Department (APD) officers. Simultaneously, seventeen indictments will be dismissed, allowing those officers to resume their full duties.

The indictments originated from the events of May 30 and 31, 2020, when APD officers utilized “less lethal” bean bag rounds to control crowds and safeguard property. Numerous protestors reported injuries, leading to a Travis County grand jury returning felony indictments against over 20 APD officers related to their use of force during that period.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson expressed relief, stating, “This has been a difficult chapter for Austin. I look forward to turning the page. These announcements will allow police officers, whose lives were upended by the indictments, to return to their services to our community.”

The City and District Attorney’s Office jointly emphasized the importance of a third-party performance review by the DOJ to enhance transparency and inform future actions. Travis County District Attorney José Garza stated, “We expect the Department of Justice will take our request seriously, and we look forward to working with Mayor Watson, Interim APD Chief Robin Henderson, and City Council to ensure full cooperation with the DOJ investigation. We will also continue to hold law enforcement who break the law accountable.”

Interim City Manager Jesus Garza highlighted the significant policy and procedure changes implemented by APD since the 2020 protests, including discontinuing the use of 12-gauge “bean bag” less lethal shotgun munitions, consistent enforcement during large crowd events, increased de-escalation training, and a heightened focus on community engagement.

The City welcomes the DOJ review, emphasizing its commitment to progress and community well-being. Interim City Manager Jesus Garza noted, “We welcome a review by the DOJ in that regard to ensure we are moving forward as a community and as a Police Department in the right direction.”