57 People Arrested at Peaceful UT Protest, 46 Cases Declined So Far

Defenders say arrest warrants lack probable cause

A trooper and police arrest a protester at UT-Austin April 24 (Photo by Lina Fisher)

A total of 57 people were arrested during the peaceful, pro-Palestine demonstration at the University of Texas, April 24, a spokesperson for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office confirmed. As of Thursday morning, charges against 46 of them have been declined.

All of the arrests were for criminal trespass, Travis County Attorney Delia Garza told the Chronicle. Defense attorneys representing arrested protesters began to raise “legal concerns” with the probable cause affidavits filed with the arrests (it appears that most, if not all, of the arrests were made by UT police officers), Garza added.

Two city of Austin magistrate judges (Sherry Statman, presiding judge of Austin’s municipal court, deployed a second judge to help process the large number of arrests) and County Court at Law #6 Judge Denise Hernández agreed with the concerns raised by defense attorneys and prosecutors and began declining cases. An unknown number of other arrestees were also released on personal recognizance, meaning they didn’t have to pay bail.

“We will continue to individually review all cases presented to our office to make determinations on whether prosecution is factually and legally appropriate,” Garza said.

Copies of five arrest affidavits filed by UT police officers obtained by the Chronicle show how little probable cause was included to justify some arrests. Each of the five affidavits appears to be a form used specifically for criminal trespass arrests. There are three lines on the form for officers to indicate when they warned a person they were trespassing before making the arrest. On all of the affidavits we’ve reviewed, those lines were left blank.

Another line on the form provides officers space to add “additional probable cause remarks.” All five of the affidavits we’ve reviewed have the same additional remarks: “Was given dispersal order and refused to do so.”

Criminal defense attorney Skip Davis, who was at the courthouse until 2am last night working to get cases declined and people released from jail, told us this level of probable cause was not enough to justify arrest. “People cannot be arrested unless there is an arrest warrant issued and it has to be supported by probable cause,” Davis told us. “But the way these officers wrote up their paperwork, they failed to meet that threshold, which is they have to establish probable cause by using articulable facts. They didn’t do that in the arrests I reviewed.”

In an email obtained by the Chronicle an attorney with the Travis County Public Defender’s Office raised similar concerns. “We have been seeing that many of the [probable cause affidavits] are essentially a template and arguably lacking [probable cause],” the attorney wrote. “In cases like this we are requesting the Court reject as lacking [probable cause] and the individuals be ordered released.”

It is unclear how many people remain in jail at this time, but even when a person’s case is declined or they are granted a PR bond, they can remain in jail for several hours before release as their paperwork is processed.

This is a developing story.

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UT-Austin, Israel, Palestine, Delia Garza, José Garza, Public Defender

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