Video of Austin officer pepper-spraying man prompts investigation

Austin police have launched an internal investigation after watchdog group Peaceful Streets Project posted a video Friday that shows an officer pepper-spraying a man while he sat inside a police van.

The video was taken early Thursday in downtown Austin and it shows a police officer, who the group identified as Cameron Caldwell, talking to a man who has been arrested and is seen sitting inside a police van.

The officer closes the door to the van, then noises can be heard that sound as if the man is kicking the door. The officer then opens up the door and says, “What did I tell you about kicking the door?”

“I didn’t do nothing,” the man says.

The officer then shoots pepper spray at the man’s face, saying “What did I tell you about kicking the door? I told you,” before closing the door again.

Local activist Antonio Buehler, who founded Peaceful Streets, said the officer’s actions were blatantly against police policy and bordered on criminal.

“Listen, we see these cops violating policy and committing crimes all the time, but usually there is some gray area that they like to dance (in),” Buehler said. “This was just crystal clear, there is no way by law or policy that what this guy did was acceptable. There is zero gray area.”

Police said they are aware of the video and have launched an investigation, but provided no other comment. They asked for anyone with information to call the Office of the Police Monitor at 512-974-9090.

The Peaceful Streets Project regularly records Austin police on video. The group is highly critical of police tactics and officers’ use of force downtown. The organization has been criticized by Austin police, who have called its rhetoric and interactions with the department antagonistic.

The group has stepped up its efforts during the 10-day South by Southwest festival, with about 10 people recording police downtown each night, Buehler said. During that time, Buehler said he has seen many instances of police using pepper spray and stun guns on individuals.

“They’re treating pepper spray like a grand marshal treats candy at a parade, just throwing it out there like crazy,” Buehler said.

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