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Austin police chief provides update on weekend 'street takeovers'

Chief Joseph Chacon provided information about arrests made so far, as well as the department's plans for future response.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Police Department (APD) Chief Joseph Chacon provided an update Tuesday afternoon on the "street takeovers" that occurred throughout the city over the weekend.

Chacon began by providing a recap of the incidents that occurred late Saturday night into early Sunday morning. 

He said just after 9 p.m. Saturday, APD received a call about five cars blocking the intersection of Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Boulevard. Additional callers reported more cars racing, circling the intersection and blocking traffic. 

Chacon said there were no police units available in that patrol sector, so another sector had to respond, "which led to a longer response time." The first unit was dispatched at 9:14 p.m. and arrived at 9:23 p.m. 

Officers who arrived on the scene reported seeing hundreds of people and many vehicles driving erratically and, in some cases, dangerously. Additional units were called in, with a total of 41 patrol units responding to this initial incident.

Chacon said when enough units had arrived and officers attempted to disperse the crowd, the officers were met with hostility and aggression. 

This incident, the first of four so-called "sideshow" events, dispersed at around 9:46 p.m. A second incident at 10:27 p.m., near Interstate 35 and East Anderson Lane, was "quickly dispersed" by police, according to Chacon. A third incident at 12:52 a.m., near Berkman Drive and Barbara Jordan Boulevard, was dispersed quickly as well. 

Chacon said a fourth takeover was reported at around 1:35 a.m. at the intersection of Metric Boulevard and Braker Lane. Officers arrived and were met with a hostile crowd that threw bottles and rocks and pointed lasers at patrol vehicles, according to Chacon. Police vehicles were damaged, including smashed windshields and equipment ripped off. This incident was dispersed by 2 a.m.

Chacon said the car clubs continued to travel to several other areas of the city, and it appears they finally stopped their activity just before 4 a.m. Sunday.

One APD officer sustained a non-life-threatening injury Saturday night. He was treated at a local hospital and was released, according to Chacon.

Chacon said two people were arrested Saturday night for evading. Those people were identified as 19-year-old Riley Wright and a 17-year-old male.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) also arrested at least one individual Saturday night, Jerry Antonio Gore of Dallas. Gore is charged with theft of a firearm, evading arrest with a motor vehicle, obstruct highway passage during exhibition, reckless driving and unlawful carrying of a weapon. 

Chacon said that on Sunday, APD continued to conduct investigations into the original incidents that occurred Saturday night. Tactical teams with APD disrupted car club activity and arrested the following four people: 31-year-old Lewis Martinez, 41-year-old Joseph Springs, 19-year-old Brian Serrano Benitez and 19-year-old Ali Nouredenne.

Martinez is charged with unlawful carrying of a weapon, aggravated assault and probation violation (possession of a substance); Springs is charged with delivery of controlled substances and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon; Serrano Benitez is charged with evading arrest, possession of marijuana and unlawful weapon carrying; and Norideni is charged with possession of a stolen firearm.

Chacon said that additional charges are expected to be filed against more individuals in the coming days and weeks. 

Chacon also said that on Sunday, members of patrol, patrol support, the APD special response team and the metro tactical teams took part in tactical readiness drills to help disrupt this type of activity should it occur again. 

Chacon also later noted that APD staffing levels are not at the point where the department can create a specialized unit, and APD would call on DPS and the Travis County Sheriff's Office for assistance in the future should something like this happen again.

The chief also addressed reported delays about 911 response.

"On a normal Saturday night, we have 16 call takers answering 911 calls. This past Saturday night, we had 12. At 10 p.m., that regular number of call takers drops to 12, and we had seven on duty starting at 10 p.m. As you can see, we had a fewer number of call takers than normal and a highly elevated number of 911 calls coming in," Chacon said. "From 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday night, we had 390 calls come into the 911 call center. From 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. alone, we had 266 calls. As a point of reference for the same time period one week earlier, Saturday night, we had 65 calls come into the 911 call center."

Chacon noted that there were reports of long hold times, with the longest being more than 27 minutes. He said that is "obviously unacceptable," and APD is working to get the call center better staffed. He said the department is getting "more applicants than at any time in history," but hiring and training takes time.

In addition, Chacon addressed reports that APD had knowledge that the street takeovers were going to happen prior to the events, saying that on Friday just before 10 p.m., the department received a call from the San Antonio Police Department about a possible takeover on Saturday. 

"That was the extent of the tip. There was no other information, including who was involved, where it would take place, at what time or any other information that might be verifiable," Chacon said. "This weak intelligence was shared with the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, and they were unable to verify or provide further information related to the chip. The tip was passed to patrol. But due to the vague nature of the tip, there was not much that could be done to staff up or to deploy prior to the event occurrence."

Chacon said APD knows from experience that these groups are using private and encrypted chat apps and direct messages, "and many times our intelligence folks have no visibility all into the communications."

Chacon said the investigation into Saturday's incidents is open and ongoing. He said APD is committed to disrupting this kind of activity and ensuring public safety.

"We are fully staffed from a security standpoint for spring festival and SXSW, and we will have teams deployed should this type of activity occur," Chacon said. "My strong message to those individuals who want to do this: don't do it. You will get yourself arrested, your vehicles impounded and whatever charges are applicable will be forthcoming."

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