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UT Austin says protesters carried guns and assaulted people. Prosecutors haven't seen proof.

UT's South Lawn during a pro-Palestinian demonstration on April 29.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
UT's South Lawn during a pro-Palestinian demonstration on April 29.

Despite UT Austin's claims about weapons and assaults at the recent campus protests, Travis County Attorney Delia Garza says her office hasn't seen a single charge.

UT Austin said Tuesday night that pro-Palestinian groups with ties to "escalating protests" across the country brought weapons and assaulted people during the rallies.

On Wednesday, Garza told KUT the university's statement — and its insistence that demonstrators had "guns, buckets of large rocks, bricks, steel-enforced wood planks, mallets and chains" — was "interesting."

“It’s concerning … we work in the world of evidence and facts, and we have not seen a single weapons charge or an assault charge," she said.

Garza, whose office prosecutes misdemeanors, said she has called on UT Austin to reexamine its policy of arresting protesters for criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor similar to loitering — is "unsustainable." The protests have led to nearly 140 arrests for misdemeanors.

People are legally allowed to carry a weapon on the UT Austin campus. However, if they're committing a crime, like criminal trespassing, they could be arrested for unlawful carrying of a weapon, a misdemeanor.

Garza said after reading UT Austin's statement Tuesday, she expected to see some of that reflected in arrest affidavits from the University of Texas Police Department, the arresting agency. She didn't.

"I don't know why they are saying that," she said.

There has been one assault charge filed – though not by UTPD. The Texas Department of Public Safety said it formally charged a FOX 7 photojournalist with two misdemeanors, alleging he assaulted a DPS trooper and interfered with public duties. Garza said the journalist was booked and processed Wednesday.

KUT reached out to UT Austin and the UTPD for comment on the contradiction between the charges filed and the statement, but has not heard back.

The university has taken a hard line against pro-Palestinian protests. President Jay Hartzell, with the backing of Gov. Greg Abbott, called in DPS troopers last week to quell demonstrations on the South Lawn. Ultimately, 57 arrests were made. All the charges were dismissed by Garza's office.

Another mass arrest took place Monday, with troopers and Austin police clearing an encampment with pepper spray and flash-bang devices. That led to 79 arrests, the Travis County Sheriff says. Those cases are more likely to take time to process.

Garza said, on average, her office handles around 85 misdemeanors a day. While she respects the university's right to keep campus safe, she said, the caseload is straining her staff.

“There’s just a lot that goes into processing every single one of those cases and rightfully so — there needs to be a good, strict process when you’re taking people’s liberty away," she said. "[But] it slows down everything … when you have so many at the same time.”

Students organizers told KUT on Wednesday they had consented to searches Monday ahead of demonstrations and that the university's insistence that they have carried weapons is "not happening."

"We're complying and letting [police] know that we don't have anything, and they're free to look through it," said an organizer who didn't feel comfortable giving his name in light of arrests.

The university has not backed down from claims that demonstrators have weapons and are from "outside the community." It said the majority of those arrested don't had ties to the Forty Acres.

The university hasn't offered proof of that statement, and arrest records to confirm that aren't publicly available as of Thursday.

Another on-campus demonstration is planned for Sunday.

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.