An Austin police officer said indictments brought against him and 18 other officers over their conduct during George Floyd protests are "politically motivated" and "have nothing to do with justice."
A Texas grand jury indicted 19 Austin police officers Thursday on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon during the May 2020 protests. Also on Thursday, the city council approved a $10 million settlement for two protesters who suffered head injuries from beanbag rounds fired by police during the riots.
"This has nothing to do with justice, has nothing do with any wrongdoing," Justin Berry, one of the indicted officers and a Republican candidate for the Texas House of Representatives, told Fox News. "This is simply about politics and a political agenda that has taken place with these radical liberal district attorneys."
Berry stressed that he and the other officers acted lawfully in their attempt to quell the violent riots. He said Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza was using the indictments as a tactic to strip local law enforcement of their ability to uphold the law.
"This simply about politics and a political agenda that is taking place with these radical liberal district attorneys," Berry said. "If they can't defund us and get rid of us that way—now they're going to try and de-police us by sending us to prison and indicting us."
Garza, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America party, won office in 2020 after promising to crackdown on police misconduct.
Before Thursday, Garza had already charged seven officers. His office also rejected 735% more felony cases over a four-month period compared to the same timeframe a year prior, a local news investigation found.
Berry has criticized Garza and his policies, which he believes made him a target of the liberal DA.
"He's had two years to go through and move forward with this, but he waits till right now, waits until a primary that's taking place," Berry said. "I'm not gonna be intimidated by that."
Austin agreed to pay $8 million to Justin Howell, who, according to family members, suffered from a cracked skull and brain damage after police hit him with a beanbag round during the protests. Another $2 million will go to Anthony Evans, whose jaw was fractured by a beanbag round.
"We were responding to a riot," Berry told Fox News. "People throwing Molotov cocktails at us, frozen water bottles, bottles filled with urine, bottles full of gasoline, and they were engaging in criminal activity by obstructing the passage road that goes to the main hospital."
"Our actions were not unlawful by any means at all," he continued.
Berry was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony which can carry up to a life sentence in prison.
"A thorough investigation was conducted before our office's presentation to a grand jury," Garza said Thursday. "The facts discovered in that presentation are disturbing."
"Our community is safer when our community trusts enforcement," he continued. "There cannot be trust if there is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law."
Both the Austin City Police chief and Austin Police Association president have come out in support of the indicted officers.
"I am not aware of any conduct that, given the circumstances that the officers were working under, would rise to the level of a criminal violation by these officers," said Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon.
The 19 indictments are the highest number of charges brought on officers in a single U.S. police department over tactics used during the 2020 protests. Berry said the move was part of a larger political agenda to strip police of their ability to uphold the law and push soft on crime policies.
"Look at our homicide rates," Berry said. "They’re through the roof right now."
"Look at anywhere George Soros has planted one of his DAs in there," he added. "It's gone to chaos and destruction."
George Soros contributed $652,000 to the Texas Justice & Public Safety PAC in the months leading up to the 2020 Travis County DA election, according to campaign finance records. That same PAC spent almost $1 million on digital and mail advertisements to help Garza’s campaign.
"This war on policing is real," Berry said. "They couldn't get away with defunding us, so now they're trying to indict us."
The Austin Police Department has faced scrutiny in recent years after nearly a third of their budget was cut or reallocated in August 2020. The Austin City Council restored police funding the next year after new state legislation threatened cities with penalties for reducing law-enforcement funding.
"I didn’t think morale could get any lower, but it just did," said Berry.
"I don't know who wants to come to a city like Austin, be told to go out there, swear an oath to protect and defend this community … only to go out there and do just that, to be told, ‘you know what, we're going to indict you and potentially put you away for the rest of your life in prison,’" the 13-year APD veteran told Fox News.
"Every cop right now in the United States of America is watching what's taking place because if it's happening here, it very well could happen there, too," Berry continued.
Garza's office did not respond to a request for comment.