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After 79 more arrests, Travis County attorney says continuing to charge protesters is 'unsustainable’

Austin police arrest a protester.
Renee Dominguez
KUT News
Austin police arrest a protester.

Seventy-nine people were arrested on UT Austin's campus during demonstrations Monday against Israel's war in Gaza, the Travis County Sheriff's Office said.

The most recent arrests began a second week of protests, with pro-Palestinian demonstrators again descending on the university's south lawn. State police responded, arresting scores of protesters. Crowds attempting to block vans carrying arrested protesters to jail were met with pepper spray and flash-bangs.

Travis County Attorney Delia Garza said Tuesday those cases have overwhelmed her office, which handles misdemeanors.

After a similar protest on campus last week, all 57 people arrested had their cases dropped. A judge found most of the probable cause affidavits — paperwork police must fill out when they arrest somebody — to be "insufficient," and Garza's office didn't pursue the cases.

But the charges might stick this time.

"An initial review of the probable cause affidavits we have received does not appear to show deficiencies," Garza said at a press briefing Monday. Her office has received 65 of the 79 affidavits so far.

Garza said the arrest documents from Monday are more detailed than last week and will likely lead to cases going to court.

The UT Police Department made the vast majority of arrests – 75 – while Austin police arrested four people. Almost all of those arrested have been charged with criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor.

UT has taken a hard line on the pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Last week, President Jay Hartzell, with the support of Gov. Greg Abbott, called in Department Public Safety troopers to respond.

Protests Monday afternoon escalated after demonstrators set up an encampment on the south lawn. Police and troopers in riot gear surrounded the protesters and made arrests.

Demonstrators emphasized their plan to "occupy" the campus, similar to groups demonstrating across the country. Hartzell and UT's administration has insisted UT "will not be occupied."

Garza said she has reached out to UT leadership to help "find a better way forward." She described her office as being overwhelmed with cases and said continuing to arrest protesters isn't "sustainable."

"While we understand the safety charges of the university, continuing to send people to jail on criminal trespass charges — one of the lowest-level, nonviolent crimes our office is presented with — is putting a tremendous strain on our criminal justice resources," she said.

Garza said the 65 cases will be active for now, while attorneys work to secure the release of demonstrators.

UT staff and faculty have come out against the university's response to the protests, calling for Hartzell's resignation in a petition.

Another demonstration took place Tuesday afternoon.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Copyright 2024 KUT 90.5

Andrew Weber is a freelance reporter and associate editor for KUT News. A graduate of St. Edward's University with a degree in English, Andrew has previously interned with The Texas Tribune, The Austin American-Statesman and KOOP Radio.