Beto O’Rourke vows to repeal Texas abortion ban if elected governor

By Sneha Dey, The Texas Tribune

In the days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats at rallies and protests in Texas said the November election is key for protecting reproductive rights.

In an interview after a Sunday rally in Austin, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke told The Texas Tribune he would work to repeal Texas’ abortion ban and expand access to reproductive health care if he is elected. Rochelle Garza, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, said she would partner with other lawyers to stop enforcement of the state’s abortion laws.

But these promises may be hard to keep if Democrats on the statewide ballot in November win. They would have to work with a Legislature that is likely to remain dominated by Republicans. Still, working with the GOP, O’Rourke said, is part of a functioning democracy.

“Just imagine the shockwaves this will send if for the first time in 32 years, Texas elects a Democrat as governor, a governor who won on the right of every woman to make her own decision about her own body, her own future, and her own health care,” O’Rourke said. “You know the Legislature will not only take notice, they will be forced to act in more of our common interest, instead of this extreme, fringe set of policies they have been pursuing over the last decade.”

He also said he’s hopeful the outrage among voters over the end of constitutional protections for abortion will translate to a more balanced Legislature come November and “change the dynamics in the Capitol.”

Thousands of Texans packed Pan American Neighborhood Park in East Austin in the heat on Sunday for a reproductive rights rally organized by O’Rourke. One woman held up a sign she used at abortion rights protests in the 1970s.

“I think the outrage you see not just in Austin, which I saw in Bryan-College Station, which I saw in Katy, Texas, early today — not necessarily a hotbed of Democratic power — is all indicative of how widespread the anger, the outrage, the frustration is,” O’Rourke said. “Connected to doing the work to win political power, can allow us to significantly improve things for women, and others who are under attack across the state of Texas.”

A Democrat hasn’t won statewide office in Texas since 1994. In a state where the GOP has tightened control by redrawing district lines, the goal of retaking either chamber of the Legislature seems like an even higher hurdle, although Democrats made gains in the Texas House in 2018.

Democrats at the rally acknowledged the uphill battle. Shellie Hayes-McMahon, a party activist, said it takes “ovaries of steel” to run for office in Texas. Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, called the political system “broken.”

Former President Donald Trump won 52.1% of the statewide vote in Texas in 2020, but last year Republicans redrew the state’s legislative maps so Trump would have won more than 61% of the new Senate districts and 56.7% of House districts.

But O’Rourke has his eyes on Texans who have not voted in previous elections – including newly registered voters or conservative and independent voters who feel outraged by what he calls the “extremism of the modern Republican party.”

“Look at everyone who is next to you, everyone who is behind you, everyone who is on this stage right now. It defies the conventional wisdom of the rest of the country about who we are right now in the state of Texas,” O’Rourke told his supporters. “It gives hope to those who are tempted to succumb to the despair of this frightening moment for so many.”

Gov. Greg Abbott’s lead over O’Rourke has narrowed, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, dropping from 15 points to 5 points after the Uvalde elementary school shooting.

Perry Bedford, a lifelong Austin resident, said he worried that Democrats do not have enough power as a voting bloc to overcome the momentum that Republicans have built over the past 30 years.

“More people have voted than have voted before. Maybe we can change something. But I keep going back to the gerrymandering of districts and if the formula has already been cemented,” Bedford said.

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State Sen. Roland Gutierrez sues Texas DPS for not releasing Uvalde shooting records

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, is suing the Texas Department of Public Safety over records related to the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary last month.

“In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame,” Gutierrez said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

State and local Uvalde officials have fought the release of records that could provide clarity around the botched emergency response to the shooting that killed 19 children and two educators. Law enforcement responding to the shooting waited more than an hour on the scene before breaking into the classroom to kill the shooter.

Gutierrez said he filed an open records request on May 31 for documentation about police presence and ballistics at the shooting, and he still has not received a response. Per state law, DPS had 10 business days to either respond or make a case to the attorney general.

Neither Gutierrez nor DPS immediately responded to requests for comment.

ProPublica and The Texas Tribune also submitted about 70 public information requests related to emergency response documentation during the shooting, including 911 audio recordings, body and police car camera footage, and communications among local, state and federal agencies. Four weeks after the shooting, government officials have not provided the news organizations a single record related to the emergency response.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Marshals Service and the city of Uvalde have asked the state attorney general for permission to withhold some records. In most cases, the agencies are arguing that releasing information could interfere with ongoing law enforcement investigations.

Abbott’s office on Tuesday said all information related to the shooting has been shared with the public or is in the expedited process of being released. Full results of the ongoing investigation by the Texas Rangers and the FBI will also be made public, according to the governor’s office.

That same day, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said city officials have been left out of briefings related to the investigation from entities, such as DPS, the Texas Legislature, the Uvalde County District Attorney’s office and the FBI.

McLaughlin accused state authorities of selectively releasing information about last month’s school shooting to scapegoat local law enforcement and intentionally leaving out details about the state’s response to the massacre. He said he had been asked by other officials to refrain from sharing details about the investigation while it was ongoing, but said Tuesday he would now start releasing that information as it became available to city officials.

“The gloves are off. If we know it, we will share it,” he said.

21 lives lost: Uvalde victims were a cross-section of a small, mostly Latino town in South Texas

The 19 students included fashionistas and artists, basketball and softball players, dancers and TikTok makers. The two educators were celebrated veterans who together had taught four decades of local children.

One boy brewed his grandparents a pot of coffee every morning. One girl wanted to be a marine biologist. One teacher had been married for 24 years to her high school sweetheart.

As summer vacation approached, their lives were abruptly cut short Tuesday by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in the mostly Latino town of Uvalde.

These are the 21 lives lost.

Makenna Lee Elrod, 10

Credit: Makenna Lee Elrod's family via REUTERS

Allison McCullough will remember Makenna’s smile, which she said could light up a room.

“She had the biggest heart and loved her family and friends so much,” McCullough said of her niece on a GoFundMe page.

Late Thursday, a young boy who said he was 8 years old walked up to Makenna’s cross in the town square. He dropped a single white rose on the pile of flowers, gifts and stuffed animals in front of it.

Layla Salazar, 11

Credit: Layla Salazar's family via REUTERS

Layla loved to swim and dance. And she could really run. The 11-year-old won six races in a recent field day and took home blue first-place ribbons.

Now she would “run with the angels,” said her father, Vinnie Salazar.

He would “jam” with his daughter to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses on the way to school. The song, he wrote on Facebook, was the only thing bringing him peace right now.

Maranda Mathis, 11

Note per her obituary it's Maranda
Credit: Maranda Mathis' family via REUTERS

Next to the memorial for Maranda at the town square are piles of bouquets and two gray teddy bears.

Someone who signed as Khloe wrote to Maranda in the center of the cross: “In our last time together, we were happy.” Someone else had drawn small butterflies.

Leslie Ruiz, a friend of Maranda’s mother, wrote to The Washington Post that the 11-year-old was fun, spunky and very smart.

“She had manners,” Ruiz said in the message. “She was a bright girl.”

Her family describes her as “sweet, smart and a shy tomboy who enjoyed being in nature and the outdoors.”

“Those who knew Maranda, knew her great imagination and often expressed her love for unicorns, especially if they were her favorite color purple,” they wrote in her obituary.

Nevaeh Bravo, 10

Credit: Nevaeh Bravo's family via REUTERS

Nevaeh, whose name is “heaven” spelled backwards, now flies with the angels, her cousin Emily Grace Ayala wrote on Facebook.

“It just feels like a nightmare that we cannot wake up from,” another cousin, Austin Ayala, told The Washington Post. “Her siblings have to wake up every day knowing that she’s not there with them.”

Jose Manuel Flores Jr., 10

Credit: Jose Flores' family via REUTERS

Jose was a good brother. He would try to help take care of his infant brother. His sister Endrea Flores, who is 9 months younger than Jose, said her brother would always play with her and support her.

Jose’s mother said he was her “little shadow” and would help her around the house.

Jose wanted to be a police officer when he grew up to protect others, said his father, Jose Flores Sr.

“He was a helper,” he told CNN.

Xavier Lopez, 10

Credit: Xavier Lopez's family via REUTERS

Even at 10 years old, Xavier could pull off a stylish outfit, complete with a button-down shirt and clean Adidas sneakers.

He could also put on a show for the cameras. He would dance to Colombian songs and do face masks with his mom on her TikTok account.

“He was funny, never serious, and his smile,” his mom, Felicha Martinez, told The Washington Post. “That smile I will never forget. It would always cheer anyone up.”

But he also excelled in school, where his favorite subject was art. He loved to shoot hoops and play baseball, according to the Post.

His mother said she attended an honor roll ceremony for him Tuesday morning. He “couldn’t wait” to get to middle school, she said.

Tess Marie Mata, 10

Credit: Tess Mata's family via REUTERS

Tess had a jar full of cash in her purple bedroom, according to The Washington Post. She was saving up money for a family vacation to Disney World.

Relatives said she loved the Nickelodeon show “Victorious” and the Houston Astros.

Maelee Haynie, 16, and Mackenzie Haynie, 17, said Tess was best friends with their younger sister. They remember Tess as an introverted girl who loved her cat.

Together they watched one video of Tess and their little sister performing a friendship handshake, which ended with the two girls jumping triumphantly to a chest bump.

She was athletic; she could do the splits and practiced softball.

Tess — or Tessy, as some of her friends and family called her — had a contagious laugh, said her sister Faith Mata.

“Sissy I miss you so much, I just want to hold you and tell you how pretty you are,” Faith wrote on Facebook. “We have one sassy guardian angel that I know is going to protect our family.”

Rojelio Torres, 10

Credit: Rojelio Torres' family via REUTERS

A large stuffed Yoda, along with a Batman-themed football and several stuffed animals, greeted loved ones at Rojelio’s memorial at the town square.

On the cross with his name, one child had written,“You were a good friend” with smiley faces for the two O’s in “good.” Others kept it simple. “Sup Rojelio,” another message read.

Family members and friends have made their profile pictures an illustration of Rojelio. He was remembered as a smart and loving son.

“I lost a piece of my heart,” his mother, Evadulia Orta, told ABC News.

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Eliahna “Ellie” Amyah Garcia, 9

Credit: Ellie Garcia's family via REUTERS

Eliahna knew she wanted to be a cheerleader, her dad, Steven Garcia, told the Today Show. She loved basketball and making TikToks.

“Eliahna was such a sweet girl with a lovely and beautiful soul,” a GoFundMe page in her honor says. “She would light up everyone’s world with big smiles & big hugs.”

She was a planner. She had her eye on a quinceañera dress, which her dad said the family would buy and hang in her room. Her dad posted on Facebook a video of her choreographing her own dance for the celebration.

Eliahna would’ve had to wait five more years to wear the dress. She would have turned 10 next week. Her family was planning a pool party celebration.

“Told her we’re going to have a party and her face just lit up,” her dad said. “That was the last time I saw her.”

Eliahna A. Torres, 10

Credit: Eliahna Torres' family via REUTERS

Eliahna wore the number four on the softball field. She loved the sport and was in contention for a spot on the city all-star team. She was looking forward to her last Little League game of the season after school on Tuesday.

“She was an amazing young girl with so much potential,” a family member told The New York Times. “She was a leader and loved by all her family.”

Two Little League teams in the area played a game in honor of her memory this week, according to TV station KIII.

“Today was her last softball game. She made all-stars,” coach Lisa Monjaras told the Little League players that day. “She’s not going to make her game tonight, so guess what? We are going to play for her.”

Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10

Credit: Annabell Rodriguez's family via REUTERS

Annabell was a quiet child and an earnest student, having earned her place on the school’s honor roll.

She was cousins, classmates and close friends with Jackie Cazares, another victim.

“We are a very tight family,” Polly Flores, Annabell’s great aunt and Jackie’s aunt, told The New York Times. “It’s just devastating.”

Jackie Cazares, 9

Credit: Jackie Cazares' Family via REUTERS

Two weeks ago, Jackie received her First Communion.

Her family members describe her as a girl full of life who brightened the day of people around her.

“Jackie was the one that would go out of her way to help anyone,” Jackie’s father, Jacinto Cazares, told ABC News. “It gives me some comfort that she ... would have done something to help her classmates in that very scary scenario.”

She was cousins, classmates and close friends with Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, another victim.

Uziyah Garcia

Credit: Uziyah Garcia's family via REUTERS

Uziyah last visited his grandfather Manny Renfro in San Angelo during spring break. They threw a football together, and Renfro was teaching him pass patterns.

“Such a fast little boy and he could catch a ball so good,” Renfro told the Associated Press. “There were certain plays that I would call that he would remember and he would do it exactly like we practiced.”

Uziyah was “the sweetest little boy that I’ve ever known,” Renfro said.

Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10

Credit: Silguero and Luevanos family via REUTERS

Jayce would always bring the neighborhood kids to his family’s home, just a block away from the elementary school where he was killed.

The yard was often packed with children, his grandfather, Carmelo Quiroz, told USA Today.

The 10-year-old would make his grandparents a pot of coffee every morning. He wrote notes like, “I love you, Grandpa.”

“He was our baby,” Quiroz said.

Another victim, Jailah Nicole Silguero, was Jayce’s cousin.

Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10

Credit: Maite Rodriguez's family via REUTERS

Green was Maite’s favorite color. She was always sporting her pair of lime green Converse tennis shoes. She had hand-drawn a heart on the right shoe.

Her mother, Ana Rodriguez, said Maite would always get chicken strips with a side of sliced jalapeños when they went to Whataburger.

She described her daughter as sweet, caring and goal-driven. Maite had told her mother she wanted to study at Texas A&M University and become a marine biologist.

She taught herself how to sew from YouTube videos. She had just picked up a camera and was practicing photography. And when it came to P.E. class, she wanted to win.

“As I lay here on this empty bed and with tears running down my face at 3am I would like to say to my baby girl ‘it’s not goodbye it’s I’ll see you later my sweet girl,’” Rodriguez wrote in a tribute on Facebook.

Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10

Credit: Silguero and Luevanos' family via REUTERS

It was uncharacteristic of her, but Jailah told her parents she did not want to go to school the morning of the shooting, her mother, Verónica Luevanos, told Univision on Wednesday.

Jailah asked her father if she could stay home; he told her it was up to her mother, who eventually dropped her off at the elementary school.

“She always liked going to school, but she didn’t want to go yesterday,” Luevanos said in Spanish. “I think she knew something was going to happen.”

Luevanos sobbed as she tried to describe her daughter. Jailah was always dancing. She liked watching TikToks. She often spent her time outdoors.

Another victim, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, was Jailah’s cousin.

Irma Garcia, 48

Credit: Courtesy of Robb Elementary School

Garcia was about to complete her 23rd year of teaching at Robb Elementary the week she was killed. She started teaching there about a year after she married Joe Garcia, her high school sweetheart. They loved to barbecue together.

“These two will make anyone feel loved no matter what. They have the purest hearts ever,” their nephew Joey Martinez wrote on Twitter.

On Thursday, just two days after the shooting, Joe Garcia died from a heart attack.

They are survived by their four children, Cristian, 23; Jose, 19; Lyliana, 15; and Alysandara, 13.

Eva Mireles, 44

Credit: Courtesy of Robb Elementary School

Mireles worked as an educator for 17 years. Many in the small-knit community of Uvalde have been her students.

Mireles’ husband, Ruben Ruiz, is a school police officer. He ran an active-shooter drill at the local high school just months ago, according to the school district’s Facebook post.

The fourth-grade teacher would call her daughter, Adalynn, at about 4:30 p.m. every afternoon as she left the school campus. On Tuesday, Adalynn’s phone did not ring.

Adalynn recalled her mother’s hands and the calluses she had developed because of her routine CrossFit workouts. Adalynn often called on her mother to check on the chicken she cooked. They would sing karaoke and reenact Tik Toks together.

“I don’t know how to do this life without you, but I will take care of dad. I will take care of our dogs and I will forever say your name,” her daughter wrote in a tribute on Facebook.

Amerie Jo Garza, 10

Credit: Amerie Jo Garza's family via REUTERS

Amerie was known to be protective of her brother, 3-year-old Zayne. She would kiss him every morning before she went to school, her grandmother, Berlinda Arreola, told People Magazine.

Her family will remember her as a hero. She was trying to dial 911 on her cellphone when the gunman shot her, Arreola said.

A vanilla bean frappe and Chick-fil-A lover, Amerie was known by her family as a diva who detested dresses. She dreamed of becoming an art teacher. Amerie celebrated her 10th birthday earlier this month.

“My little love is now flying high with the angels above,” Amerie’s dad, Angel Garza, wrote on Facebook. “Please don’t take a second for granted. Hug your family. Tell them you love them. I love you Amerie Jo. Watch over your baby brother for me.”

Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, 10

Credit: Alexandria Aniyah Rubio's family via REUTERS

There was a lot Alexandria was looking forward to: practicing softball and basketball with her father, playing volleyball in the seventh grade and learning about feminism.

The fourth-grader got straight A’s in elementary school and had just been awarded a good citizenship award.

“Our baby wanted to be a lawyer; she wanted to make a difference,” her mother, Kimberly Rubio, told The New York Times. “Please make sure she makes one now.”

Kimberly Rubio said the family had been contacted by Gov. Greg Abbott’s office but declined to meet with him.

“My first thought was, ‘My Lexi doesn’t even like him,’” she said. “She was really little, but we talked about this stuff at home.”

Alithia Ramirez, 10

Credit: Alithia Ramirez's family via REUTERS

Alithia loved to draw. She had submitted a drawing to Doodle for Google, her father, Ryan Ramirez, told KSAT-TV. She shared her love for art and soccer with her best friend, Nico Escalante, who was struck and killed by a car in Grand Prairie last year.

Alithia tried to use artwork to provide solace to Nico’s parents.

“I never imagined that this little girl would be mature enough to say, ‘Hey, you know what, I want to keep in touch. I want to check in. I want to make [you a] painting and bring a smile to your face,’” Fernanda Sedeno, Nico’s mom, told CBS. “That’s what I loved about her, and that shows how pure and kind her heart was.”

She sent a drawing of him sketching in heaven while she was drawing on earth.

“I made a drawing for you and the family to know that our friendship was special and that he will always be by my side,” Alithia wrote in a message to Nico’s parents.

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ACLU moves to block Texas investigation of transgender girl’s family

The state of Texas is investigating a family for child abuse after the parents obtained gender-affirming care for their 16-year-old transgender daughter. It’s believed to be among the first of these probes since the governor directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to target such care a week ago.

The child’s mother — a DFPS employee who reviews cases of abuse and neglect — has been placed on leave after asking for clarification from her supervisor about the recent executive branch orders.

The investigation came to light on Tuesday — the day of the Texas primary elections — in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed in Austin on the family’s behalf to block investigations of families seeking such medical care for their children.

The suit names both Gov. Greg Abbott and the Department of Family and Protective Services as defendants.

“No family should have to fear being torn apart because they are supporting their trans child,” Adri Pérez, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “A week before an election, Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a partisan political attack that isn’t rooted in the needs of families, the evidence from doctors and the expertise from child welfare professionals.”

The action is the first legal challenge in response to Abbott’s directive last week to child welfare officials to investigate parents of transgender children for child abuse. The order came within days after an opinion issued by Paxton, which classified certain types of gender-affirming care as child abuse.

Paxton’s opinion includes body modification surgeries that are rarely, if ever, performed on children. He also mentions puberty blockers that are reversible and are widely accepted by health experts. Studies show the model of gender-affirming care has had a significant improvement on the mental well-being of transgender children.

Last week, the agency confirmed that three reports of transgender children receiving gender-affirming care were made through the child abuse reporting system. On Tuesday, the agency declined further comment other than to say it was aware of the ACLU suit. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.

The teenager’s family is not named. The lawsuit instead refers to the parents as Jane and John Doe and the daughter as Mary Doe. When an investigator visited the family’s home last Friday, they interviewed the parents and the child, the lawsuit states. The family has so far refused to hand over the girl’s medical records to the agency.

If the agency determines the family has committed child abuse, the parents would be placed on a child abuse registry and the mother could be fired, according to the suit.

The mother said in the lawsuit that she and her husband have “been unable to sleep, worrying about what they can do and how they can keep their family intact and their daughter safe and healthy.”

Houston-based clinical psychologist Megan Mooney is also named as a plaintiff. Mooney is now required by state law to report her clients receiving gender-affirming care, but she stated in the suit that complying with the governor's directive raised ethical concerns.

The medical community and even the White House have criticized the state’s actions.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told The Dallas Morning News a week ago that it was dangerous to label care for transgender children as abuse.

“Conservative officials in Texas and other states across the country should stop inserting themselves into health care decisions that create needless tension between pediatricians and their patients,” Jean-Pierre said. “No parent should face the agony of a politician standing in the way of accessing life-saving care for their child.”

At the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, a group of more than 100 people protested Abbott and Paxton’s directives that now target families of transgender youth. One who attended as Alisa Miller, 55, San Antonio, who has a trans daughter and is the beneficiary of gender-affirming treatment.

“She's now a happy, healthy college student,” Miller said. Referring to Abbott and Paxton, she added: “They wouldn't want someone to target their children like this, so why are they targeting our children?”

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

An Austin cop has been charged with police misconduct. That might actually help his Texas House campaign.

Republican Justin Berry’s Texas House campaign has centered largely on his 14-year tenure as an Austin police officer. He vows on his website to use that professional experience to “protect our neighborhoods, schools and private property.”

But less than two weeks before the March 1 GOP primary, Berry was among 19 Austin law enforcement officers indicted and accused of using excessive force on anti-police brutality protesters in 2020. Berry and law enforcement groups quickly pushed back on the development, which they portrayed as a political stunt from a Democratic district attorney who won office after promising to hold law enforcement accountable.

“The question is not how the prosecution will turn out,” Berry said in a statement late Friday. “We will be acquitted. The question is: When police are treated like this, who will want to become police officers?”

That messaging — and the indictments themselves — could spur Republican voters in the predominantly white and mostly Republican Central Texas district to back Berry, political experts and local Republicans say.

“It's rocket fuel to his campaign,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “There's not a lot of sleep lost or concern over excessive use of force against demonstrators in Austin.”

A 2020 University of Texas / Texas Tribune poll conducted after that year’s protests against police brutality found a stark partisan and racial divide in whether voters had a favorable or unfavorable view of law enforcement. In that poll, 84% of Republicans had a favorable opinion of law enforcement, while only 30% of Democrats did. Among white voters, 69% had a favorable opinion, but only 33% of Black voters and 43% of Hispanic voters did.

Central Texas’ House District 19 largely covers suburbs and Hill Country towns west of Austin where 82% of eligible voters are white. The mostly Republican district was redrawn during last year’s redistricting process. Former President Donald Trump would have carried the district in 2020 by nearly 40 percentage points. That means the Republican nominee will likely beat the lone Democrat seeking the seat in the November general election.

"Republican primary voters are very pro-law enforcement,” said Travis County GOP Chair Matt Mackowiak. “And I think a lot of Republican primary voters are going to view these indictments as an outrage. So it could be the kind of thing that raises his profile, that gives him a cause to cite on the campaign trail to galvanize supporters. "

Protesters across the state and country flooded the streets for weeks in 2020 after a Minneaopolis police officer murdered George Floyd, a Black man. The protests divided Americans along partisan lines. Black Lives Matter supporters say the demonstrations were an outcry against police officers’ use of force on Black people, who are killed at disproportionately higher rates in police custody. But critics, including Republican officials across all levels of government, depicted the protests as violent and destructive uprisings.

In a statement late Friday, Berry echoed those GOP portrayals of the demonstrations as violent when he criticized Travis County District Attorney José Garza for pursuing the indictments.

“DA Garza promised in his campaign to go after law enforcement officials even when they are risking their lives protecting Austin from being burnt to the ground,” Berry said. “He is keeping that deadly promise.”

Garza announced the indictments at a press conference Thursday, but said his office was not disclosing details about the charges until individual officers are arrested and booked into jail. That means it’s not yet publicly known what crime or crimes Berry is accused of committing during the 2020 protests. A police union official said the officers face accusations of excessive force. Berry’s lawyer declined to comment until the indictment against his client is made public.

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon defended his officers this week. He and City Manager Spencer Cronk said they did not think officers should face criminal charges.

In announcing the indictments, Garza said many of the protesters injured were innocent bystanders. But Berry said Garza “demonizes police” and “demands that police abandon their oaths.”

Police said demonstrators threw bottles and rocks at officers, sometimes injuring them, damaging police cars and breaking into stores. But advocates and protesters expressed outrage over police officers turning to violent crowd-control measures, including bean bag rounds.

Cities and communities in Texas continue to grapple with the aggressive tactics that police waged against protesters that year. Police officers all over Texas and the nation have faced charges for how they dealt with protesters. Last week, the Dallas County district attorney's office issued warrants for two Dallas police officers’ arrest for their alleged use of force during the 2020 racial justice protests in that city.

The Austin indictments are among the highest tied to a single city’s police force in connection with the 2020 protests so far, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier Thursday, the Austin City Council unanimously approved a settlement with two demonstrators who suffered severe head injuries in 2020. Justin Howell will receive $8 million — the highest amount ever awarded in an excessive force case involving an Austin police officer, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Anthony Evans, another protester, will get $2 million.

Craig Murphy, a spokesperson for Berry’s campaign, said the Texas House candidate and the other officers followed orders, and expects the jury to find them not guilty.

“They did exactly what they were told to do with the tools they were given and with the training they were given,” Murphy said.

In the primary, Berry faces former Austin City Council member Ellen Troxclair, former legislative staffer Nubia Devine and military veteran Perla Hopkins. Devine declined to comment on the indictment. Hopkins and Troxclair did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the candidates’ Jan. 31 campaign finance reports, Troxclair had the financial edge heading into the primary’s homestretch. She had more than $412,000 cash on hand in January. Berry had more than $36,000, Devine had nearly $23,000, while Hopkins trailed behind with almost $2,300.

Democratic candidate Pam Baggett, whom the Republican nominee will face in November, said there is not enough information to determine how Berry was involved.

“We're going to have to wait and see what actually is the charge. We don't know yet,” Baggett said.

With the March 1 primary election less than two weeks away, The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas executive director Charley Wilkison said the timing of the indictment was intended to drive voter turnout for “anti-police candidates.” The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas has previously endorsed Berry.

The proceedings against Berry and the 18 other police officers could take months or years to resolve. Mackowiak said that creates uncertainty among voters, and could take Berry’s attention away from the campaign.

The scheduling of indictment proceedings against Berry was unusual, Mackowiak, the Travis County GOP chair, added.

“We don’t see candidates get indicted days before an election,” Mackowiak said. “In fact, generally, law enforcement, whether it's federal, state or local, bends over backwards not to indicate candidates around the time of an election because they want to appear apolitical.”

Reese Oxner and Joshua Fechter contributed to this story.

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