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Gov. Greg Abbott has appointed an Austin police officer accused of using excessive force during the 2020 protests to the Texas law enforcement agency.
Justin Berry was among 19 Austin police officers indicted earlier this year over the protests sparked by the killing 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 in Texas House District 19, but lost in that year’s primary election. Abbott had endorsed Berry in the race, saying his “strong conservative values and experience in stopping violent crime are exactly what we need in the Texas House.”
Now, hand in hand with the governor, Berry will serve on the Texas Law Enforcement Commission, which sets minimum licensing and training standards for police.
In a news release announcing Berry’s appointment Friday, Abbott said the commission ensures “that the people of Texas are served by highly trained and ethical law enforcement, corrections and telecommunications personnel.” berry released a statement on Twitter Friday, but did not respond to requests for comment.
“The demands and expectations of today’s professional police officer have never been greater,” Berry said of his appointment via Twitter. “I look forward to making sure Texas has the best police officers in the world. Making sure those who answer the call to serve their respective communities have the training and resources to set themselves up for success is a priority not only to keep Texan’s safe, but also to ensure these communities earn and maintain trust.”
Sara Mokuria, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, said Abbott’s decision to appoint Berry to TCOLE is dangerous, not based on public safety and flies in the face of “what is in the best interest of Texans.”
“This is an accused officer who is now part of the body that authorizes and regulates law enforcement agencies,” Mokuria said. “It’s a move in the wrong direction and it makes us insecure. And frankly, it’s a message that’s been reiterated from the governor’s mansion over and over again, whether it’s families in Uvalde who weren’t sure to send their children in school, or all Texas residents during the winter storm. Our lives and our safety have been constantly put at risk because of this governor.”
Berry’s exact role in the Floyd protests is unclear, but Austin officers seriously injured several people after shooting them in the head with “less lethal” ammunition. That included a 20-year-old black man who police said was not their target after a nearby man threw a water bottle and backpack toward the stairs where police were standing. The video also showed a 16-year-old Hispanic boy crumpling to the ground after police fired a beanbag bullet at him while he was alone near the freeway.
Violent police tactics during protests against police violence were widely 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.
In an emailed statement to The Texas Tribune, Abbott’s office defended the appointment.
“Justin Berry is a proven public servant who has worked selflessly to protect his community and fellow Texans,” a spokesman said. The officers who worked during the 2020 protests, the spokesman added, “deserve to be commended, not prosecuted.”
Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition, said Abbott’s appointment of Berry despite his indictment “is not surprising.” Moore believes the governor said all the politically correct things after Floyd’s murder, but followed through with inaction.
“He’s never bothered to make sure everyone can be safe,” the activist said. “He doesn’t care about the national conversation that happened in 2020, where every state had some form of protest over George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, you know. He’s a staunch Texas Republican.”
Eleanor Klibanoff contributed to this story.
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