Who Pulled the Trigger on Brad Levi Ayala?

Austin-made documentary short “Less Lethal” spotlights the citizen detective who solved the police shooting

Brendan Walsh, subject of new investigative documentary "Less Lethal" by Jaime Wilken

In every classic whodunnit, there's a crime, then the police arrive, look through the evidence, find the suspect, and extract a confession. But what happens when the triggerman was a cop?

The facts of the case were clear. On May 30 of last year, 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala was shot in the head with a lead pellet round fired by an Austin Police Department officer during the Black Lives Matter protests in Downtown Austin. But who fired the shot? And who was going to solve that mystery, since APD seemed to have little appetite for the investigation?

As shown in Jaime Wilken's new short documentary, "Less Lethal," the unlikely sleuth was Brendan Walsh, an employee at a tech startup with zero detective experience (the closest he ever came to a criminal investigation, he explains in the film, was that "I had to track down a credit card fraudster"). However, he started looking through the vast amount of footage that had been gathered that day and placed online. "Everything these days is captured on cell phones and DSLR [cameras]," said Wilken.

She'd been on the ground herself that day, "after the battle had ended. ... There were people crying, there were people on the side of the highway injured." That footage kept appearing on TV, "and then the footage of Brad Levi Ayala went viral. It really horrified me that it could happen in Austin at a Black Lives Matter protest. At a protest about police brutality, there was this insane police brutality – and against a 16-year-old boy." However, the initial fury over Ayala's shooting seemed to fade, and she was concerned that there would be no resolution, no name, no consequences. That's when she read a June 2020 Texas Monthly interview with Walsh, talking about his investigation. She saw his search as a way to keep the story in the public eye without intruding on the Ayala family's privacy. Moreover, she became fascinated by how Walsh had been stirred to action by that day. "He had never been to a protest, he was not very political, but he was compelled to get involved."

Currently an MFA student at UT-Austin's Department of Radio, Film, and Television, Wilken is already working on her next project, a documentary/narrative fusion called Lorraine "about an 80-year-old man processing his mother's suicide when he was 11 years old by reading her letters," that she's currently shooting in Llano. She already directed a couple of award-winning shorts – "Mama Kin" and "Korea Pride" – that she shot while living in South Korea before attending UT. "Less Lethal" combines her interest in filmmaking with her career experience as a social worker – which is why she had gone back to school in the first place. "I like to focus on social awareness stories, and I decided the best way for me would be an MFA." As for Walsh, she said, "He's still trying to figure out what cops shot the other injured people on that day."

Find “Less Lethal” and more of Wilken’s work online at www.vimeo.com/jaimewilken.

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Less Lethal, Brendan Walsh, Brad Levi Ayala, Austin Police Department, APD, Black Lives Matter, Short Films, Jaime Wilken, UT RTF

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