Police and organizers of Juneteenth events in two cities went out of their way Thursday to insist that attacks against drivers—one of which left an Austin, Texas, man dead—have nothing to do with the crowds attending the celebrations.
But in both cases, electronic evidence raises questions about how the crimes were being characterized by officials.
In Austin, a woman who called 911 on Tuesday night to report the brutal beating of David Rivas Morales, a 40-year-old man attacked by a crowd in a housing complex parking lot, said she struggled to the police dispatcher to understand her location, and described the scene as a gang fight involving people celebrating Juneteenth at a nearby park, according to audio files released Thursday by the city.
In Milwaukee, news video clearly shows police responded in riot gear Tuesday night to disperse the crowd at that city’s celebration after a man was pulled from a car and beaten and an officer was injured trying to break up a fight.
In spite of the video, event organizers insisted there was no link between Juneteenth and the attack.
The new video showed dozens of people immediately moving from the event to an attack on a car that left a 33-year-old man beaten, raising questions about Weddle’s characterization of the crime.
The Austin police 911 call and several radio transmissions between dispatchers and the ambulance crew also raised questions about the assault that police blame on three or four men.
Although police insisted there wasn’t much of a crowd around the Booker T. Washington Terraces complex on Tuesday night when Morales was assaulted after a car he was riding in hit a child, the unidentified female caller said the street was blocked and she couldn’t leave a parking lot across the way.
“It’s really congested but the guy’s bleeding from the head pretty bad, if you guys could just mow everybody down to get it through,” a police dispatcher told an emergency medical services dispatcher. “We need you in there ASAP.”
In spite of the women’s call, Austin police also insisted Morales’ death was not a result of the Juneteenth celebration.
The investigation into both attacks, meanwhile, continued Thursday, with Austin officials backing off their initial descriptions of a mob beating Morales to death.
Fewer than two dozen—not hundreds of—people witnessed the attack, the officials said, and police were wrong on Wednesday when they said up to 20 people may have participated in the assault. They said the crowd grew when people were drawn to see what the commotion was about.
“We’re looking for three or four heinous criminals,” Assistant Police Chief David Carter said. “I want to bring them to justice.”
Authorities also released new details about the events leading up to the beating, saying the car’s driver had just dropped Morales off at his sister’s townhouse when he hit 2-year-old Michael Hosea Jr., who was not seriously hurt. Three or four men confronted the driver, and Morales, 40, came to help him, Carter said.
The driver told police he got away in his vehicle before the beating began and didn’t know his friend had been hurt, Carter added.
Morales’ neighbors and relatives complained on Wednesday about the time it took an ambulance crew to reach him as he lay in the parking lot, choking on his own blood. Thirteen minutes passed between the first 911 call and the crew’s arrival at the lot a third of a mile away.
After the crew was cleared to move, it took them seven more minutes to get the rest of the way. Brown said the street next to the parking lot was extremely congested. Vehicles were parked on both sides of the street and both lanes were locked in bumper-to-bumper traffic, he said.
Police also responded to a second fight about a block away.
An officer who was trying to break up a fight between groups of girls was injured when a 17-year-old girl punched the sergeant’s riot helmet hard enough to shatter the shield.
The officer had cuts on his face that required three stitches and had scratches on his neck.
About three or four people—not a mob of up to 20—beat a man to death after the car he was riding in struck and injured a toddler, police said Thursday.
Police backed off earlier descriptions of Tuesday’s attack, also saying that fewer than two dozen people—rather than hundreds—were witnesses.
City officials also said the attack was not connected to the city-sponsored Juneteenth celebration that had just wrapped up nearby, which celebrates the day Texas slaves learned they were freed.
Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald said almost all the celebrants were blocks away from the public housing complex where the attack occurred. And Assistant Police Chief David Carter said police were wrong on Wednesday when they said up to 20 people may have participated in the attack.
“We’re looking for three or four heinous criminals,” Carter said. “I want to bring them to justice.”
Morales’ neighbors and relatives complained on Wednesday about the time it took an ambulance crew to reach him as he lay in the parking lot, choking on his own blood. Morales reached a hospital about 35 minutes after a 911 call was received, timing that became more difficult to understand given the news that there had been no large crowd in the area.
An anonymous 911 caller who reported the beating to a dispatcher struggled to get the dispatcher to understand her location and described the scene as a gang fight involving people celebrating Juneteenth, according to audio files released by the city. Police said Thursday it was not gang-related.
That forced emergency crews to wait a few blocks away until police were sure the area was under control, said Richard Herrington, director of Austin’s Emergency Medical Services Department. Police, however, previously said it took them just one minute to get to the scene.
Herrington also said traffic in the area delayed the ambulance.
After the crew was cleared by police to move, it took them seven more minutes to get the rest of the way. Jasper Brown, who commands the communications division for the EMS department, said the street next to the parking lot was extremely congested. Vehicles were parked on both sides of the street and both lanes were locked in bumper-to-bumper traffic, he said.
Morales was in cardiac arrest when the crew found him, Herrington said. The crew treated him at the scene for about 12 minutes before rushing him to the hospital.
The family also had criticized police for failing to perform CPR before the ambulance arrived, but Herrington said that could have made Morales’ condition worse.