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Houston police chief walks back theory that an Astroworld security guard may have been drugged

Music Festival Deaths
Michael Wyke/AP
FR33763 AP
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner speaks during a news conference, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Houston, after several people died and scores were injured during a music festival the night before. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner walked back a claim that a security guard at Friday’s Astroworld Festival may have been pricked with a needle and drugged, a theory he put forward during a press conference earlier in the week.

The chief told reporters at a Wednesday briefing that the man’s story was “not consistent” with non-consensual drug injection.

“He said he was struck in his head,” Finner said. “He woke up in a security tent. He says that no one injected drugs in him.”

Finner introduced the theory on Saturday, telling reporters the man felt a needle prick in his neck, went unconscious and was later revived with NARCAN, a treatment to counteract the effects of opioid overdose. At the time, he said “medical staff did notice a prick that was similar to a prick that you would get if somebody is trying to inject."

During Wednesday’s media briefing, Finner acknowledged there has been "a lot of talk, a lot of rumors," and speculation surrounding the event.

Investigators are currently reviewing hours of footage, and are still awaiting the causes of death for the eight people who lost their lives during Friday’s concert, including a toxicology report.

The event broke out into chaos when rapper Travis Scott took the stage. The crowd surged toward the stage, causing people to collapse. In addition to the eight people who died, 25 people were hospitalized, including a 9-year-old boy who is now in a medically induced coma and a 22-year-old Texas A&M University student whose family says lost brain activity.

Finner added that around 530 HPD officers were present during Friday's festival. During Astroworld 2018, there were 170 HPD officers present, and 240 present in 2019, according to Finner.

The chief noted that he was “not comfortable” giving a specific number of private security guards present at the event because private providers — at least 3 companies — haven’t provided “good records” to HPD.

The response to the crisis has been scrutinized since it was revealed that police informed organizers about the situation around 9:30 p.m., as much as 40 minutes before the show came to an end. Finner questioned whether that 40-minute window was an accurate timeline, though he also declined to confirm HPD’s own timeline for the event.

The police chief and Mayor Sylvester Turner have defended the response, arguing that stopping the show abruptly could have caused a riot.

However, Finner did add that organizer Live Nation’s role was part of the investigation, as was the role of his own officers and others.

“This type of investigation is going to take weeks, possibly months," Finner said. “Assumptions and opinions are not healthy. Our detectives will focus on facts and evidence to include the actions of all parties, including our agency.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has called for an independent investigation into Friday’s events, a suggestion that was echoed by a number of county leaders at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting. Finner dismissed those calls.

“We investigate ourselves all the time,” Finner said. “I’m not against the independent investigation when it’s warranted. It’s not warranted right now.”
Copyright 2021 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.

Paul DeBenedetto
Lucio is a reporter and photojournalist currently studying media production at the University of Houston. He has previously worked as a news photographer for Houston Public Media, the NPR affiliate in Houston, Texas. His photography has appeared throughout several Texas-based NPR affiliates.