AUSTIN (KXAN) — Cellphone video showing Austin police officers punching a man outside a downtown Austin gas station is under investigation by the Austin Police Department. The arrest was related to spotting illegal narcotics sales downtown, according to an affidavit, but the suspect was initially arrested for allegedly jaywalking.
The incident happened at the Signature Austin Shell gas station at 900 N. Interstate 35 — at the corner of Ninth Street — around 5:35 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12. Officers in civilian clothes had been in the area and saw a man, identified as 37-year-old Jason Deshun Donald, making “brief contacts with the subjects in that area. [The officer] suspected that Donald may be involved in narcotic dealing.”
Officers saw him cross the street about 100 feet from a crosswalk, “causing several vehicles to abruptly stop to avoid striking him.” Uniformed officers were called as he made his way to the gas station, and they arrested him on a charge of crossing at point other than crosswalk.
The video — posted on Facebook on the same day around 5:42 p.m. — showed what happened next, and has more than 2 million views and has been shared around 50,000 times.
Donald was first seen in the video being brought out of the gas station handcuffed by four officers — all but one wearing balaclavas. According to an affidavit, he at one point “leaned back and refused to walk forward,” before the officers take him to the side of the gas station out of view.
Twenty five seconds later, amid the sounds of yelling and screaming, the woman filming the incident walks to the side of the gas station where Donald is seen on the ground surrounded by officers.
In a statement Thursday, APD says surveillance video shows the man was able to slip one hand out of the handcuffs and had his hands in front of him.
“Donald used force against the officers by pulling and pushing us with his hands and arms, which caused [an officer] to lose his balance and all three officers to fall to the sidewalk and pavement,” an affidavit said. Donald was also allegedly reaching for his waistband throughout the struggle, and “officers feared he may be reaching for a weapon.”
In the video, one of the officers is seen firing a stun gun at the man, and an order for the man to “put your hands behind your back!” is yelled by one of the officers. Another officer is seen punching Donald on the head, as the man appears to yell repeatedly, “He’s punching me!” The video ends after one minute and 53 seconds while the officers are still on the ground with the suspect.
APD says the chain of command is reviewing video of the incident.
“This store actually has surveillance cameras and we’ve been able to obtain a second video that fills in that gap for us,” Chief Manley told KXAN.
Manley says that video shows Donald escape from his handcuffs and try to get away. Then came the struggle.
Officers took Donald around the corner, away from the entrance, to be in a better lit area and to get away from a person Donald was yelling at in the parking lot, the chief explained. After an arrest, police are supposed to search suspects for weapons. Once a suspect resists, Manley says an officer can use the amount of force the officer deems appropriate.
“Strikes without a baton or an impact weapon are one of our lowest levels of force and then we do have specific target areas,” said Manley. “When you do a strike to the head it is a higher level use of force than if it is to one of the target zones on the arms or the legs. But it is not prohibited. It just has to be objectively reasonable to be within policy at that point.”
He encouraged people to keep recording his officers. “Post them on social media if you want, absolutely, but send them to us as well so we can get started looking at something if there is an issue that we want to look at,” said Manley.
The chief said the gear that some officers had on was not appropriate for this incident, such as the one officer wearing a black Santa hat with “NAUGHTY” written on it and other officers wearing balaclavas over their faces. APD says while balaclavas were previously not prohibited by department policy, that has now changed.
Officers working in non-tactical operations will no longer be allowed to cover their faces unless there is a specific need to protect their identity and that need has been approved by their division commander.
The department says the issue of the officer wearing the Santa hat is being addressed, but did not specify how.
As for Donald being able to escape his handcuffs, the chief said it’s not a common occurrence, but it does happen — owing to a person’s flexibility or if the handcuffs were not secured tightly enough. As for the officers punching Donald, Manley said, ”
Donald was booked into the Travis County Jail Tuesday evening on charges of manufacture or deliver controlled substance — 1 gram or more but less than 4 grams — and resisting arrest. After he was handcuffed a second time, officers found what is believed to be K2, 3.88 grams of crack cocaine and a large sum of cash, the chief said. Bond has been set at $42,000 for the two charges and Donald is still in the jail.
Chief Manley said Friday the officers’ duty status has not been changed.