Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Gov. Greg Abbott has appointed an indicted Austin police officer accused of using excessive force during 2020 protests to Texas’ regulatory law enforcement agency.
Justin Berry was among 19 Austin police officers indicted earlier this year in the protests spurred by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Berry is charged with two counts of aggravated assault by a public servant.
He also ran as a Republican for Texas House District 19 but lost in the primary runoff election this year. Abbott had endorsed Berry in the race, saying his “strong conservative values and experience stopping violent crime are exactly what we need in the Texas House.”
Now, at the governor’s hand, Berry will serve on the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which sets minimum licensing and training standards for police. Abbott did not immediately respond to The Texas Tribune’s request for comment, but in a press release announcing Berry’s appointment Friday, he said the commission ensures “that the people of Texas are served by highly trained and ethical law enforcement, corrections, and telecommunications personnel.” Berry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sara Mokuria, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, said Abbott’s decision to appoint Berry to TCOLE is dangerous, not based in public safety and flies in the face of “what’s in the best interests of Texans.”
“This is an indicted officer who is now part of the body licensing and regulating law enforcement agencies,” Mokuria said. “It’s a move in the wrong direction, and it makes us unsafe. And, quite frankly, it’s a message that has been reiterated from the governor’s mansion over and over again, whether that be families in Uvalde who were not safe to send their kids to school, or all Texas residents during the winter storm. Our lives and our safety have consistently been put at risk because of this governor.”
Berry’s exact role in the Floyd protests is unclear, but Austin officers grievously wounded several people after shooting them with “less-lethal” ammunition in the head. That included a 20-year-old Black man police said was not their intended target after a man nearby tossed a water bottle and backpack up toward steps where police were in formation. Video also showed a 16-year-old Hispanic boy collapsing to the ground after police fired a beanbag bullet at him while he was standing alone near the freeway.
The violent police tactics during the protests against police violence were heavily criticized. Along with the indictments of 19 officers, the city of Austin agreed to a $10 million civil settlement with two men shot by police with beanbag rounds, including the 20-year-old.
When you join us at The Texas Tribune Festival Sept. 22-24 in downtown Austin, you’ll hear from changemakers who are driving innovation, lawmakers who are taking charge with new policies, industry leaders who are pushing Texas forward and so many others. See the growing speaker list and buy tickets.