FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 25, 2022
Austin Criminal Defense Attorneys Defend Eight Officers Relating to Protests and Use of Force
On February 17, 2022 a Travis County grand jury, under the direction of District Attorney Jose Garza, indicted 19 Officers for Aggravated Assault by a Public Servant. These charges are First Degree Felonies with a range of punishment of 5-99 years or life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. The officers are on paid administrative leave while their cases are pending.
We represent eight APD officers who responded to the protests to protect the citizens of Austin, the city itself, peaceful protestors and officers from violent and dangerous conduct.
Their indictments relate to the use of department-issued beanbag shotguns to impact persons committing violent acts like throwing rocks or other items.
The incidents occurred over the summer of 2020 during the previous Travis County District Attorney administration. Officers were requested to support other officers in crowd control. These officers have a duty to respond to threats, preserve the peace, and protect lives and property.
HOW IT STARTED
On May 26th, 2020, protests erupted in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a result of the in-custody death of George Floyd. Video footage of the tragic event quickly went viral, and an unprecedented wave of protests and civil unrest began flowing across the U.S.
Protests soon began in Austin relating to the death of George Floyd and Mike Ramos. Starting on May 30, the Austin Police Department was forced to issue a “citywide request for assistance, which means all Austin officers [were] asked to report to duty.”
It is undisputed that many protestors committed no violence whatsoever during the protests. It is equally undisputed that a significant number of protestors did commit violent acts during the protests. Rioters in Austin threw rocks, bricks, eggs, frozen water bottles, fireworks, smoke grenades, baseballs and golf balls at Austin Police Department officers. Simply it was a dangerous situation, and our clients were instructed to deploy the beanbag rounds at people who were committing violent acts.
The use of force is necessary for law enforcement when peaceful protests turn into riots. Less-lethal weapons are more commonly used today as they target individuals with pain to change behavior and gain compliance.
The use of a shotgun with bean bags is a common technique across the country and both legal and within policy in Austin. Bean Bag rounds are a type of impact projectile that is intended to gain compliance by causing localized pain similar to a baton strike or punch. It is a better alternative to a baton or night stick because it can be employed at longer distances. Statistics tell you that subjects are rarely incapacitated after one round and most require multiple rounds. The rounds are specifically designed to cover crowd control situations in a riot.
The use of these bean bag rounds ended up being the focal point in these cases. These less lethal weapons are explicitly designed and employed to incapacitate individuals while minimizing injury. However, we understand that the beanbag rounds issued to our clients were unknowingly defective. We have heard that they were expired and that the rounds did not perform in the manner of their intended use. Simply – these rounds are not designed to cause serious bodily injury or death. However, we have seen injuries that are significantly different than expected and the accuracy of the rounds significantly affected.
As a result of the performance of the beanbag rounds issued to officers, Austin Police Policy was changed and additional suggestions have been made to ensure that the beanbag rounds perform consistently with their intended use.
o Rounds need to be accounted for, clearly marked, and checked for expiration dates. APD worked alongside multiple other departments that also deployed less than lethal munitions. Marking APD rounds allows us to be more accountable.
We know that the law reflects the needs of society. Our society will have to decide what is acceptable and what is not reasonable. We expect that these decisions will play out both in the courtroom by jurors and in the ballot box by voters. Further, we know that these officers acted according to how they were trained and instructed on the scene, using department-issued equipment according to both the law and policy.
While we realize unintended injuries during demonstrations are tragic, we do believe that the actions of our clients were reasonable under the facts and justified under the law.
Jason S. English and Laurie Drymalla
Attorneys for Officers An, Cast, Felton, Fisher, Gilbertson, Lehman, Lomovstev and Siegel
Informed Response to the 19 APD Officer Indictments
In response to the indictments, City Officials and Police held a press conference. As you already know, APD Chief Joseph Chacon confirmed, “I am not aware of any conduct that, given the circumstances that officers were working in, that would rise to the level of a criminal violation by these officers.” Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk noted that this was not the correct outcome.
Governor Abbott issued a statement supporting Austin Police Officers as “they 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."
On February 22, the Greater Austin Crime Commission also released a statement and calling for DA Garza to step aside and ask for a special prosecutor to be appointed to handle these cases, pointing to legitimate questions about evidence presented or not to the grand jury and the serious consequences for the community for these cases.
WHO ARE JASON ENGLISH AND LAURIE DRYMALLA
Though English now works as a criminal defense attorney, he is also a former prosecutor with years of experience prosecuting the same crimes for which his client is now facing charges. Before establishing Jason S. English Law, PLLC, English represented the State of Texas, where he worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Cameron, Hays, and Travis Counties from 2002-2017. His extensive experience includes years as the Chief Misdemeanor Prosecutor and Lead Felony Prosecutor. He handled not just Violent Crimes but also handled Drug Cases, Assault Cases, and DWI's. He was also assigned to the Public Integrity Unit for many years, prosecuting White Collar Fraud, Corruption, and Public Officials. For more than seven years, he worked in-house as the only Assistant District Attorney on-site advising the Austin Police Department.
Additionally, English served as the Felony Prosecutor that handled all cases assigned to the Mental Health Docket and Veterans Court Docket. He understands how mental illness can affect a crime and punishment. Drawing from his extensive experience and established reputation within the legal community, English helps clients obtain the best possible resolution of their case.
Mr. English's co-counsel on these case is Laurie Drymalla. Like English, Drymalla is also a veteran of the Travis County DA's Office and has over twenty years of prosecutorial experience. During Laurie's time at TCDA she served as Chief of the Critical incident Unit. This unit was responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases involving the use of force by police officers, officer involved shootings and in custody deaths. Both during former DA's Rosemary Lehmberg's and Margaret Moore's tenure, Laurie presented over 75 cases involving officer's use of force to grand juries for their review of criminal charges. Laurie brings with her a wealth of knowledge regarding the dynamic nature of police encounters with the public in both deadly force and non-deadly force situations.
About Jason S. English Law, PLLC
At Jason S. English Law, PLLC, we care about you, and we are proud of the work that we do on your behalf. We would encourage you to read the reviews and recommendations written by previous clients to get a better idea of how we practice law, what we care about, and see our passion through the words of our clients.
While our practice consists of mainly helping good people facing criminal and drunk driving charges and representing victims of serious accidents who deserve to be fairly compensated for their injuries, our practice also includes other areas. We also know the value of planning for your family's future when you are no longer around, so we dedicate a part of our practice to creating Wills and Probating Wills. We also handle Divorce, Real Estate, and other cases where we can help make a difference. While our office is located in Austin, Travis County, Texas, we spend a lot of time in Bastrop, Hays, and Williamson Counties. Just don't be too surprised when we travel back home to Tarrant County or other fine places in Texas.
We pride ourselves on having a robust referral network for other legal practice areas, locations, and even other industries. So be sure to give us a call at 512-877-8382. We can probably point you in a direction and find you a referral to consider when you need help outside of our practice.
About the Law Office of Laurie Drymalla, PLLC
Prior to attending law school, Laurie Drymalla developed passion for helping those less fortunate. In high school, she spent a summer in Costa Rica teaching English and hygiene with the Amigos Del Las Americas Program. During her Spring breaks in college, she did similar service work with the homeless in Washington, D.C., and the citizens of Monterrey, Mexico who were devastated by Hurricane Gilbert.
After graduating from Baylor Law School, she began representing indigent clients in the criminal county courts at law in San Antonio. As a court-appointed attorney in Bexar County, she found that with hard work, she was successful at resolving cases pre-trial for her clients, but that if she wanted to take her practice to the next level, she would need to get experience in the courtroom. In November of 1997, she joined the Bexar County District Attorney's Office in San Antonio in order to gain the trial experience necessary to fight for her client's rights.
As a prosecutor in Bexar County, she handled protective order hearings and misdemeanor trials involving domestic violence.
When her family moved to Austin, she continued her career in public service at the Travis County's Attorney's Office. At the Travis County Attorney's Office, she was selected to staff Travis County's first full-time Family Violence Court. In addition to trying jury cases involving domestic violence, she also worked on the special prosecution team that investigated and prosecuted crimes involving public officials.
She joined the McLennan County District Attorney's Office in Waco in 2001. As an assistant district attorney, her caseload in Waco included handling serious felony offenses from arrest through trial and representing the State in felony revocation hearings. Her experience practicing in felony court in Waco proved invaluable when she moved back to Austin and joined the Travis County District Attorney's Office in 2007.
At the Travis County District Attorney's Office, she served as the chief of two major units, Chief of the 167th District Court for three years and the Chief of the Critical Incident Unit for four years. Her experience included investigating and prosecuting all types of serious violent felony offenses, homicides, intoxication offenses, sexual offenses, white-collar cases, police officer use of force cases, police misconduct, and officer involved shootings.
During her seven years with the Critical Incident Unit, (renamed the Civil Rights Unit in 2017) she responded to the scenes of officer-involved shootings where she assisted law enforcement in drafting search warrants, making charging decisions, and directing the collection of pertinent evidence. After the investigation of such case, she prepared the cases for grand jury. This preparation included preparing experts, police officers, and ordinary citizens for their testimony in front of the grand jury. Upon indictment, she remained the prosecutor assigned to the case. In one instance, the officer's case was moved to federal court. She remained on the team that prosecuted the case in federal court.
In 2021, Laurie retired from the Travis County District Attorney's Office. Laurie is now using her expertise in the criminal justice system to help out those who have been accused of a crime, need help navigating the criminal justice system, need help consulting on a criminal case, or need help preparing for testimony in front of a grand jury or court.