Downtown Austin residences warn armed protesters may try to access buildings

Hundreds of Austin officers, many mounted on horseback and bicycles, as well as state troopers in riot gear, arrived to face an angry crowd that has spilled onto Congress Avenue and Fourth Street in downtown Austin.

As a march against police violence that started at the University of Texas ended, crowds swelled near the site of a memorial to Garrett Foster, who was fatally shot during a protest there a week ago. About 9 p.m., officers arrived in force.

A few protesters scuffled with officers Saturday night as authorities sought to detain an individual. The gathering was mostly not violent, however.

Protest organizers said police have detained or arrested 20 people downtown Saturday.

A Police Department spokesman told the American-Statesman he couldn’t immediately confirm how many arrests officers made but said that information may be available Sunday or Monday.

Earlier, Austin Police Department officers pepper sprayed and arrested protesters at Fourth Street and Congress Avenue. Officers told protesters gathered near a makeshift memorial to get off the sidewalk. Then officers on bikes surrounded the protesters and told observers to get back. Officers detained at least two people and used pepper spray several times.

Hundreds of Austin police and DPS troopers have arrived at 4th and Congress

— Katie Hall (@Katie_Statesman) August 2, 2020

Ahead of the march calling for reductions in the Austin police budget Saturday evening, downtown mid- and high-rise properties warned residents to be on guard.

On the UT campus, protesters started assembling after 7 p.m. at the Littlefield Fountain and marched toward Council Member Kathie Tovo’s house. Shouting “Black Lives Matter” at times, the group wound through the West Campus area until reaching their destination on 35th Street.

“Say her name!,” one protestor yelled. The group shouted in unison, “Breonna Taylor!”

Austin bicycle cops helped the group navigate through traffic. Other Austin officers and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers monitored events from afar at each major intersection. Overall, it was a peaceful march. At one point, the group even lowered the decibel level through a tony portion of the neighborhood.

Organizer Robert Foster told the group Tovo should vote to cut the Austin Police Department budget “by $100 million. That’s a moderate demand from the brown and Black community,”

Tovo said in a Friday Facebook post that she supports transforming the Police Department. “As I have said publicly, I stand in solidarity with community members calling for change,” she posted. “I applaud the creativity and innovation of the proposals before us and support many of the items in these amendments, including but not limited to shifting the forensics department, internal affairs, and 911 communications.”

Organizers said they are particularly upset that Tovo has not called for deeper budget reductions for the department.

Austin police and Texas Department of Public Safety officials have said they bolstered the number of officers on the ground for the event.

By 7:15 p.m. a few dozen protesters had gathered at UT, as Austin Police Department officers patrolled on bicycles, DPS troopers rode through on motorcycles and two helicopters circled overhead.

Group here at UT is now on the move, shouting Black Lives Matter.

— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) August 2, 2020

A number of mid-rise residences in the downtown area warned tenants to call 911 if they see suspicious people or activity on upper floors or the roofs of buildings. In their warnings, managers cited unnamed police officials and mentioned the Tyndall at Robertson Hill, AMLI Eastside, Eleven and La Vista de Guadalupe.

The Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday afternoon.

Officials said earlier Saturday that they have no facts to support an online rumor that protesters were being bused in from Portland for the Austin rally.

Residents of La Vista de Guadalupe, a downtown Austin apartment building, have received a notice from management stating that @Austin_Policehave informed them armed protesters may have “plans to get on top of buildings along the I-35 frontage road” during #austinprotests today.

— Gary Faust (@garyrfaust) August 1, 2020

Saturday’s protest is the resumption of a July 25 event that was interrupted by the fatal shooting of Foster, an Air Force veteran, by 33-year-old Army Sgt. Daniel Perry of Fort Worth.

Perry’s attorney has said his client was in the city driving for Uber on July 25 to earn extra money and had dropped off a fare near Congress Avenue the night of the protest. He drove toward a “hot spot” to wait for another fare or food order.

Once on Congress, he encountered the protest, and several people began hitting his vehicle. The statement from his attorney says Perry did not know a protest was happening that night.

Perry at first thought Foster was a law enforcement official when he approached the vehicle and motioned with an assault-style rifle for Perry to lower his window, the statement says. Perry realized after rolling down his window that Foster was not a member of law enforcement.

The statement says Foster began to raise his rifle at Perry. Witnesses have told the American-Statesman that Foster had his weapon pointed down.

Perry shot Foster in self defense with a handgun he kept in his vehicle for protection, the statement says. A third person then shot at Perry, who drove away and called police, the statement says.

Both shooters were detained and released by police without being charged in the incident.

Public Safety Department told CBS Austin they have “received multiple reports of individuals planning to disrupt peaceful protests scheduled for this weekend in Austin.”

“DPS supports the right of individuals to lawfully protest, and public safety is our top priority. Therefore, DPS will be increasing our presence this weekend, along with our local law enforcement partners, to ensure public safety needs are met and to combat any potential criminal activity,” DPS said in the statement. “While we do not discuss operational specifics, DPS will continue to work with local law enforcement, including the Austin Police Department, as well as the National Guard, to ensure the safety of our citizens and property, and to protect those individuals who are exercising their constitutional right to assembly and free speech.”

*story by Austin American-Statesman