Austin police critically injured a 20-year-old black protester Sunday when an officer shot him with “less-lethal” ammunition during a weekend filled with Texas demonstrations and violence, according to police Chief Brian Manley. Video also shows officers shooting at the people trying to get medical attention for the protester, identified as Justin Howell by The Battalion, Texas A&M’s student newspaper.
Howell’s brother, who works for The Battalion, wrote in an op-ed that doctors have told his family that Howell, a political science student at Texas State University, has a fractured skull and brain damage.
Demonstrations nationwide were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck until he lost consciousness and for minutes afterward. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been fired and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three officers who were with him were also fired. In Austin, protesters also demonstrated for Michael Ramos, an unarmed black man who was shot to death by an Austin police officer in late April.
On Monday, Manley addressed videos circulating on social media of force used by his officers at protests during the weekend. In a media briefing, Manley said police cameras showed the critically injured protester was standing near police headquarters at around 11 p.m. when another man lobbed a water bottle, and then hurled his backpack, at officers guarding the building.
“One of the officers fired less-lethal munition at that individual, apparently, but it struck this victim instead. And this victim then fell to the ground, and it appears that he hit his head when he fell to the ground as well,” Manley said.
Manley said the protester was hit by a bean bag round. Rubber bullets were also seen on the ground during Austin protests this weekend. Manley said after the man was shot, people nearby talked to officers about getting him medical attention and were given instructions to bring him toward police. Video shows a group of people carrying a man toward the officers on the steps of the police building and then being shot at themselves. Manley said it was reported that less-lethal munitions were again used, and one person at the protest providing medical attention was struck in the hand.
Eventually, the man was taken inside the building and transported to the hospital, the chief said. He said an investigation into the shootings is ongoing.
“We are praying for this young man and his family, and we’re hoping that his condition improves quickly,” he said.
Police have not yet identified the injured protester, but family confirmed it was Howell to Texas A&M University’s newspaper —where Howells’ brother works as the opinion editor. In an opinion piece, Howell’s brother, Joshua, said his family isn’t interested in Manley’s prayers.
“We are interested in you appropriately using the responsibilities with which the people of Austin have entrusted you,” Joshua Howell wrote. “Prayer is not an excuse to abdicate responsibility.”
Manley said that during protests Saturday, another video showed that a Hispanic teenager, either 15 or 16, was struck in the forehead with less-lethal ammunition from officers. He said that case is also being investigated and did not provide more details on the teen’s injury, aside from saying he was also in the hospital.
“Right now one at least is fighting for their life, and the other one has been seriously injured as well,” he said. “That is not what we set out to do as a police department. That was not what we set out to do this weekend.”
He asked the public to provide video from the incidents to help police with their internal investigations.
Police used force against protesters in other Texas cities over the weekend. According to The Dallas Morning News, officers deployed tear gas and fired pepper balls at protesters. In El Paso, police confirmed that tear gas and bean bag rounds were fired into crowds, according to KVIA-TV.
Article by BY JOLIE MCCULLOUGH, texastribune.org