Gun-Filled Weekend Prompts APD Action
Spring fest unrest
After a spate of shootings across the city during the final weekend of South by Southwest, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley has pledged to develop a plan to prevent the city's entertainment district from becoming "a place where shootings become the common occurrence." Over a 24-hour period, five separate shooting incidents left eight injured and one dead – with APD officers returning fire in one of the shootings.
At a press conference on Monday afternoon, Manley said he had met with other command staff that morning to address the weekend's violence and to prepare for SXSW 2020. Although Manley stressed that planning had just begun, he said it would include more than just "increased police visibility," noting that 300 officers were on duty within a one-mile radius of the three Downtown incidents.
The chief said APD would work with SXSW organizers as well as the Downtown Austin Alliance to develop an action plan for next year's Festival, as well as the risks associated with the numerous unauthorized events that pop up throughout the central city to lure in Fest-goers. "What else do we need to do, and what commonalities can we find?" Manley asked in regard to his department's next steps. "Are there specific venues drawing in people who commit violent crimes?" Taking steps to vet artists before they perform to see what types of audiences they draw and whether they could lead to violence could be a part of the plan as well. (Although any connections to music shows appear tenuous, and this would almost certainly prompt concern and controversy within the music community and beyond.) If APD identifies venues that are commonly hosting artists that attract violence, Manley says, the department will work with them to develop more robust safety plans, or bring in Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents to determine if the venues are doing anything to violate their licenses.
The first incident occurred early Saturday morning around 2:45am near Sixth Street and I-35; according to Manley, a 911 caller said people were jumping on the hood of a car; as officers arrived on the scene, another car drove by and fired shots into a crowd of people who were waiting for transportation services. Three people were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, and no suspects have been arrested as of press time.
The approaching dawn on Saturday saw two more shootings at some distance from Downtown; around 5am, one person was shot at the Axis West Campus Apartments near UT in an incident APD is investigating as an aggravated robbery. Then, at 6:21am, a man was shot in the chest and arm at a Denny's in North Austin following an argument between an employee and a customer who refused to pay; the victim's injuries were considered life-threatening, and APD currently does not have any suspects.
Saturday evening close to midnight, a man was shot and critically injured near Sixth and San Jacinto; two suspects were detained, but no arrests have been made. Finally, at 2:50am Sunday, a minor collision outside of APD headquarters at Seventh and I-35 led to a shootout between passengers in the two involved cars. Four APD officers responded and exchanged fire with the subjects; a person in one of the cars was shot, and a driver not involved in the incident was hit by a stray bullet.
By noon on Sunday, APD had found one of the cars – a Maserati Levante – with a deceased man in his 20s inside, at Zach Scott and Tilley streets in the Mueller neighborhood, more than three miles away. It's not confirmed that the victim sustained fatal injuries in the gunfight, and if so, by whose weapon; APD is searching for three suspects and a dark-colored Chevy Monte Carlo SS involved in the incident.
In Other SXSW Crime News ...
Austin police last week also made two arrests in the theft of SXSW badges by registrant impersonation (which seems to happen more often at festivals than it does at Texas polling places). The suspects are charged with obtaining three Platinum badges by providing the stolen credentials of valid conference attendees to buyers (at least one of whom found the "deal" on Craigslist), who would then get badges printed with their own photos. While many venues featured conscientious scanning of the microchips in the badges (which could thus flag stolen ones), enough others don't that it's likely an effective scam, one that anonymous tipsters to the Chronicle suggest is far more widespread at SXSW (and other events) than just this one case.
Also widespread around SXSW, and reaching a peak not before seen in Austin, were dockless scooters and e-bikes, which dropped in Austin last year before the Festival but which their owners (then just Bird and Lime) pulled after the city promised to let them come back under interim rules a few weeks later. Among the 465,000-plus dockless trips taken from March 8-17 – more than in a typical month, with Peak Scooter on the first Saturday of SXSW – were plenty of illegal ones, documented heavily on social platforms and by the national stars in attendance. (They are not toys, people!) Scoffing at the law also took scooters where they'd been expressly forbidden to go by APD and the Austin Transportation Department, leading to multiple large piles of impounded scooters within the barricades on Sixth Street and throughout the Festival zone.