AUSTIN, Texas — The City of Austin has approved settlements worth $10 million total in two civil lawsuits connected to the 2020 protests in Downtown Austin.
"While I wish this never happened," said Justin Howell, injured protestor. "I’m grateful that the City of Austin has taken responsibility for what happened to me and deeply relieved that I will have the resources I need to rebuild and maintain my health. A big thank you to City Legal and City Council."
Those demonstrations lasted longer than a week as people protested outside the Austin Police Department headquarters following the deaths of Michael Ramos and George Floyd. Ramos was killed by an APD officer that same year. Several people were hurt in the protests.
A total of $8 million will be given to Howell and $2 million will be paid to Anthony Evans. The $8 million settlement for Howell is the largest settlement amount ever paid for a use-of-force case in Austin's history.
"My hope is that everybody involved in this sees this as an opportunity to be able to move forward in what is a very difficult situation," said Mayor Steve Adler. "Nothing is perfect. I'm not sure that anybody leaves this kind of morbid feeling satisfied because it was a hard time. It was a difficult time."
Mayor Adler said when settling litigation cases, there's never an exact science as to how it should be done.
"We could take a look at what hospital care costs both in the past and going forward in the future," said Adler. "Those questions are fairly objective. But there's also a real impact to a continuing life that now has been changed, less objective, more subjective."
During the protests, Austin police officers deployed bean bags and foam bullets from on top of Interstate 35, which injured several protesters.
KVUE spoke with Evans following the protests. Due to his injuries, he needed two surgeries, spent three days at the hospital, had a metal wire in his mouth for six weeks and now has a permanent titanium plate in his jaw.
A City of Austin spokesperson released the following statement Thursday afternoon:
"We are settling two lawsuits filed by individuals who suffered significant injuries during the May 2020 protests.
"We have reviewed the totality of the circumstances surrounding the protests, and we believe it is in the best interest of these plaintiffs and the City of Austin to resolve these cases now. We have other claims and lawsuits that have been filed as a result of injuries during the protests, and we will review each of those matters individually.
"The significant dollar amounts in today’s settlements stem from these particular plaintiffs’ need for ongoing and long-term care.
"Following the protests, APD committed that it will no longer use bean bag ammunition for crowd control. The City continues to reform public safety policies and procedures in the interests of our community."
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon also released a statement:
“I understand the Council’s decision to settle these two cases now and our hearts go out to these two individuals who received serious injuries during the May 2020 protests.
"When APD responded that day, our goal was to protect people gathering to exercise their right to protest as we have safely done for many years.
"We planned for protests with crowds that would be similar to past protests. In hindsight, we were not prepared for the heightened frustration felt by so many community members, nor the size and scope of the crowds. As tensions escalated, APD instructed our officers to use tools that we thought would help manage the crowd for everyone’s safety. However, we did not anticipate the injuries that occurred from the use of the less-lethal rounds. We now prohibit the use of less-lethal ammunition for crowd control.”
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