“As we’re sure you agree, what happened at previous Austin protests this year represented a failure to keep people safe,” wrote Council Members Delia Garza, Jimmy Flannigan, Greg Casar and Natasha Harper-Madison. “We request updates on how, under your leadership, APD will maintain an environment where free speech and assembly are not only tolerated, but welcomed, without injury either to the public or our own public servants.”
The May 25 death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police officers sparked protests against police brutality and systemic racism in cities around the country, including Austin.
Those protests, at times, turned violent. In Austin, 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala and 20-year-old Justin Howell were critically injured after APD officers shot them with “less-lethal” bean-bag bullets. Council moved in June to take a series of actions intended to change how police respond to protests, banning those “impact munitions” along with chokeholds and tear gas.
APD is still investigating nine incidents from the weekend of May 30-31, and on Oct. 29, it placed two additional officers who were involved in the protests on administrative duty: Jeffrey Teng, who has been with APD for four years, and Eric Heim, who has five and a half years on the force. APD previously put five officers on administrative duty as investigations into their role in the protests continue, which brings the total to seven.
"People in Austin should be able to demonstrate peacefully, without fear that they will be hurt by anyone,” the council members wrote in the letter. “We all recognize the important social justice movement we are in right now and want to ensure the safety of everyone, both residents and officers, is a priority for you.”
Manley, according to APD, is out of the office and will respond when he returns next week.
At a press conference Oct. 13, the first day of early voting in Travis County, APD Assistant Chief Joe Chacon said police are not stationed at any polling locations, but they are prepared to respond when called upon by election judges.
Chacon said police have no specific information about unrest or violence, but the department will be ready to respond. During the week of the election, Chacon added that the department is on “tactical alert,” which he said is common during large events, such as music festivals, with all officers in uniform no matter where they work.
“We certainly respect people’s right to peacefully assemble and to be able to voice their opinions. They just have to do it within the law,” Chacon said at the press conference.