Community activists rally around man punched by Austin police officers

Officers seen arresting a man in a video that has since gone viral, showing one of the officers punching the suspect, Jason Donald, at the Shell gas station at 900 N. I-35 on Dec. 12, 2017 (Facebook Photo)
Officers seen arresting a man in a video that has since gone viral, showing one of the officers punching the suspect, Jason Donald, at the Shell gas station at 900 N. I-35 on Dec. 12, 2017 (Facebook Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Community activists strongly criticized the Austin Police Department in a press conference Friday for what they called a “pervasive culture of anti-Blackness,” following the Dec. 12 arrest of a man in downtown Austin seen on a Facebook video watched by millions.

In the video, Jason Donald, 37, was seen being led out of the Signature Austin gas station at 900 N. Interstate 35 in handcuffs by four Austin police officers — three with black balaclavas covering their faces and another wearing a Santa hat that said, “Naughty” — for jaywalking nearby.

Led around the corner and out of view, the video picks up again when Donald is on the ground surrounded by the officers who are seen punching him as he is face down on the concrete.

APD said Friday that an official review of the incident did not result in any formal discipline, meaning none of the officers were suspended, demoted or fired.

Donald and his family were joined by Black Sovereign Nation, which describes itself as a pro-black, anti-capitalist collective that focuses on developing autonomy in black communities, outside the Travis County Courthouse.

“As usual, Austin Police Department is pointing its finger at a victim who didn’t deserve the brutal beating he was subjected to,” Njera Keith, the founder of the group, said. “There is no justification for the inhumanity the officers involved in this incident demonstrated and it’s wrong for Chief Manley to imply otherwise.”

Interim Chief of Police Brian Manley said at the time the officers ended up on the ground when Donald pushed the officers and they lost balance, falling on top of him on the ground. The chief said surveillance video from the gas station, which has not been released, showed Donald get out of one of his handcuffs and try to get away.

One of the officers seen on top of Donald is black, while the other three officers appear to be white.

Manley said striking a suspect was not prohibited, explaining, while a punch to the head is one of the higher levels of force allowed, “It just has to be objectively reasonable to be within policy at that point.”

The chief said the officers wearing balaclavas and the Santa hat were not appropriate for the incident, and, as Manley announced in December, balaclavas would be banned outside of a time when there is a specific need to protect an officer’s identity — and approved by a division commander.

Donald was booked into the Travis County Jail following his arrest 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, crack cocaine and a large sum of cash, the chief said.

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