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Justin Howell, a 20-year-old black student, was capturing police brutality protests in Austin on his cell phone when police shot him in the head with a non-lethal round, fracturing his skull and leaving him with brain damage.
Officers told other protesters to bring Howell to them for treatment. When five of the protesters picked up Howell’s body and began carrying it towards police lines, officers in riot gear fired more than a dozen rounds at the protesters.
The incident, which took place on Sunday night, May 31, was captured on video,by a protester called David Frost, but Howell’s identity was revealed on Wednesday by his older brother Joshua, in an op-ed for Texas A&M's student newspaper, The Battalion.
“He has a fractured skull. He has brain damage. Doctors anticipate that when he wakes up, he will have difficulty telling his left from his right,” Joshua Howell wrote.
In a press briefing on Monday, Chief of Police Brian Manley said Justin Howell had been standing near police headquarters during a demonstration at around 11 p.m. on Sunday night when another man threw a water bottle and his backpack at officers.
"One of the officers fired their less-lethal munition at that individual, apparently, but it struck this victim instead,” Manley said. “And this victim then fell to the ground, and it appears as though he hit his head when he fell to the ground as well.”
Joshua Howell said he spoke with the man who filmed the attack, to clarify exactly what happened. “It’s worth considering that this is the world in which we live: If the police tell you something, it’s best to get a second source to confirm its accuracy,” Howell said.
Manley said Justin Howell, a political science student at Texas State University, was hit with a bean bag round.
During his press conference, Manley appears contrite, saying: "I'm crushed. I've cried a few times today,” and adding: “That is not what we set out to do as a police department. That was not what we set out to do this weekend. Again, we were trying to come out and protect their First Amendment right.”
But Joshua Powell pointed out that Manley failed to apologize to him and his family, highlighting serious failings in the way the police handled the situation.
“It’s unclear whether the officers who shot at the protesters were the same ones who gave them the order to approach. But at minimum, it takes a special kind of incompetence to fire at those who are doing as the police tell them… it shows a complete inability to be aware of your surroundings and to manage the situation appropriately.”
Addressing Manley’s “prayers” for the family of the victim, Joshua Howell responded: “We aren’t interested in your prayers. We are interested in you appropriately using the responsibilities with which the people of Austin have entrusted you. Prayer is not an excuse to abdicate responsibility.”
Cover: Protesters marching downtown Austin, May 31, 2020. Mario Cantu/CSM.