5 officers under investigation over use of force at Austin protests

Thousands of protesters gather and march peacefully from Huston-Tillotson University to the State Capitol in Austin, Texas chanting "Black Lives Matter" and "justice" on Sunday, June 7, 2020.  (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Thousands of protesters gather and march peacefully from Huston-Tillotson University to the State Capitol in Austin, Texas chanting "Black Lives Matter" and "justice" on Sunday, June 7, 2020. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP) (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

AUSTIN, Texas – Five Austin police officers are on paid administrative duty amid an investigation into the use of what authorities call “less lethal” force during May protests against police brutality and racial injustice, according to the police department.

The investigation follows public outcry after two people participating in protests in Austin sparked by the death of George Floyd were seriously injured by officers' bean bag rounds — ammunition that law enforcement deems “less lethal” than bullets.

Officers Nicholas Gebhart, Kyu An, John Siegel, Derrick Lehman and Kyle Felton were placed under investigation as of Friday, and their duties have been limited.

A spokeswoman for Austin police said in an email Tuesday that the department could not confirm whether the officers were involved in the cases of 20-year-old Justin Howell or 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala, who were both hospitalized after being unintentionally shot in the head with bean bag rounds during protests the last weekend of May.

The statement cited ongoing investigations in its reasoning for limiting the release of information.

The Austin Police Association did not immediately respond to The Associated Press for comment Tuesday.

Paid administrative duty limits the type of work officers can do while they are under investigation. Austin police policy says officers can be placed on paid administrative duty pending investigations into any force that resulted in serious bodily injury requiring hospitalization and the use of impact weapons.

The Austin Police Special Investigations Unit and the Internal Affairs Division are working to identify other officers involved in protest-related incidents, according to the statement.