Austin officer who pepper-sprayed handcuffed man could face charges

Travis County prosecutors said Wednesday that they will present a police use-of-force case filmed by a citizen photographer during South by Southwest to a grand jury for possible indictment against the officer.

The panel will decide whether officer Cameron Caldwell should be charged in the matter. In a video widely circulated online, Caldwell is seen shooting pepper spray in the face of a handcuffed man after the man refused to stop kicking a police transport van.

Police Chief Art Acevedo in August suspended Caldwell for 45 days over the incident. But police officials also referred the case to prosecutors for their review.

First Assistant District Attorney John Neal said Wednesday that the decision to present the case was “made after our normal review process for use-of-force cases.”

Caldwell’s attorney, Brad Heilman, said his client looks forward to telling his side of the story to the grand jury.

The man had been arrested and placed inside the van. He kicked the door of the van multiple times and continued to do so after Caldwell ordered him several times to stop, a disciplinary memo said. After the man disobeyed him again, Caldwell opened the door, sprayed him in the face with pepper spray and shut the door. The man was handcuffed and seated at the time.

Caldwell admitted to wrongdoing during a disciplinary hearing. Caldwell has no previous history of improper behavior, which Acevedo said contributed to his decision not to fire Caldwell.

It is unusual for prosecutors to present to a grand jury use-of-force cases that don’t involve lethal force. They’ve done so in Travis County four times since January 2012. None of the cases resulted in criminal charges.

The most recent was the violent arrest of teacher Breaion King in June 2015 by officer Bryan Richter, an incident the American-Statesman revealed in July. Earlier this month, a grand jury declined to indict Richter on any charge.

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