Austin police officer Patrick Oborski and local activist Antonio Buehler have both been cleared of felony charges related to a dispute between the two on New Year’s Day 2012.
But Buehler, a 35-year-old Army veteran and founder of the Peaceful Streets Project, will face several misdemeanor charges in relation to that incident and others last year in which he was detained after filming officers during arrests.
District attorney officials said a Travis County grand jury met six times and heard from 13 witnesses, including Buehler and Oborski, before returning their decision Tuesday on the indictments. Jurors considered whether Buehler was to face a charge of harassment of a public servant.
They also considered whether Oborski was to be indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record and whether he committed official oppression.
Buehler first made headlines after he engaged into a heated face-to-face argument with Oborski and was arrested about 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2012. Police have said Oborski was on patrol downtown that night when he stopped a car without its lights on at a convenience store at North Lamar Boulevard and 10th Street. The female passenger in the car began shouting to the driver as Oborski investigated whether the driver was intoxicated, police officials said.
Buehler had been pumping gas at the store and began shouting at police when Oborski and another officer pulled the passenger out of the car, officials said. An arrest affidavit said he became aggressive and spat in the face of one officer.
But Buehler and his passenger, Ben Muñoz, both denied the allegations, and Buehler later accused Oborski of lying in the police record. He filed a complaint against the arresting officers, Oborski and Robert Snider, who were cleared by an internal affairs investigation in July.
The grand jury did indict Buehler on a charge of failure to obey a lawful order, a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine. The jurors returned an indictment against the female passenger in the other car, Norma Pizana, on a charge of resisting arrest, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
The jurors also indicted Buehler on charges of failure to obey a lawful order, a Class C misdemeanor, for incidents that took place Aug. 24, Aug. 26 and Sept. 21.
Buehler’s brushes with authorities sparked wide debate last year over the Police Department’s videotaping guidelines and led to his founding of the Peaceful Streets Project, in which members record police encounters and post them online. Another member of Peaceful Streets, Sarah Dickerson, was indicted Tuesday on a charge of failure to obey a lawful order in connection with the Sept. 21 incident.
Buehler said he was not surprised he was cleared of the felony charges but was shocked that the officer would not be facing punishment, while he, Pizana and Dickerson were charged with misdemeanors.
“I am really looking forward to exposing the Austin Police Department for what it is,” he said.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo issued a statement Tuesday saying the department wanted to reiterate that simply filming police actions is generally lawful. “However, interfering or obstructing a lawful police action, failure to obey a lawful order, and/or resisting arrest is a violation of the law,” he said.