By Steven Monacelli

Almost two years after the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police sparked protests across the country, three police officers accused of assaulting protesters during the summer of 2020 were indicted by a grand jury in Dallas on May 6.

The grand jury indictments against Dallas police Senior Cpl. Ryan Mabry, former Dallas police Senior Cpl. Melvin Williams and Garland police Officer Joe Privitt found that there is enough evidence for the cases to go to trial.

Mabry faces six charges of aggravated assault by a public servant and two charges of deadly conduct. Williams, who has already been fired from DPD due to an investigation that emerged out of separate incidents of alleged police brutality, faces four charges of aggravated assault by a public servant and two charges of deadly conduct. Privitt faces one charge of aggravated assault by a public servant.

Several of the charges against Mabry and Williams come on top of prior counts of official oppression that were announced in February. Those prior charges came after a press conference in January where District Attorney Creuzot again sought information from the public regarding these crimes after months of requesting public assistance. It turned out that I was one of the key witnesses of interest at that press conference. Videos I had captured ended up being cited in official arrest affidavits. Those videos showed Mabry and Williams shooting into crowds with “less lethal” devices, including the shot that destroyed the eye of Brandon Saenz, and are corroborated by police body-camera footage.

Dallas Police Officers firing “less-lethal” munitions on protesters
Dallas Police Officers firing “less-lethal” munitions on protesters

Affidavits describe Mabry shooting three people with “less-lethal” munitions: Brandon Saenz, David McKee and another unknown individual.

Williams is described shooting “less-lethal” munitions at a handful of protesters: McKee; Vincent Doyle, Jesus Ramiro Lule, and an unknown individual. Doyle told the Dallas Morning News that he lost 40 percent of his vision in his left eye after Williams shot him with the “less-lethal” munitions.

Privitt’s charge is related to one of the incidents involving both Mabry and Williams.

Dallas and Garland Police departments reacted swiftly to the news of the indictments. Both held press conferences on May 6 during which they defended the actions of their officers, and echoed arguments from the officers’ lawyers that their responses were justified due to the threat of violence.

“If the actions of that day rose to the level of criminal intent, that is for a jury to decide at this point. I hope those individuals who will judge those officers do so through a lens of what all of our officers experienced while protecting Dallas in one of the most chaotic times in its history,” said Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia.

Garland Police had been sent to Dallas on the urgent request of the Dallas Police Department. Flanked by over a dozen officers, Garland Police Chief Jeff Bryan defended their actions, claiming the situations had deteriorated into “riots” in which officers had to make “split-second decisions under the most dangerous of circumstances.”

“I have not seen the evidence against Officer Privitt that rises to the level of the criminal conduct that has been alleged by the Grand Jury, which is Aggravated Assault, by threat, from a public servant,” said Bryan.

The Dallas Police Association, the largest police union in the city, responded to the charges more harshly.

At a May 7 press conference, DPA leaders cast the entire process as a political ploy by the District Attorney, who faces an upcoming primary race. Mike Mata, head of the DPA, complained of a lack of charges against protesters, who he says threw rocks and destroyed property. To date, no serious injuries against officers stemming from the unrest have been reported.

Moments before Brandon Saenz was shot by Mabry

Saenz maintains he was not involved in any violence or property destruction during those protests. His lawyer, Daryl Washington, told NBCDFW that he was disappointed to see police leaders backing the officers who had been charged.

“People have a first amendment right to protest. People were out there protesting against police brutality. Sadly, they didn’t know they were going to leave as exhibit one, exhibit two and exhibit three for police brutality. So I think it was a very bad eye on the city of Dallas. And quite frankly, just the way these indictments were handled by the city of Dallas, I think it really took the city of Dallas 10 steps backward,” Washington said.

(Disclaimer: I am currently pursuing a civil suit against the Dallas Police Department and several unidentified officers stemming from my own injury and arrest on the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge on June 1, 2020, an incident documented by Press Freedom Tracker.)

Steven Monacelli is an independent investigative journalist based in Dallas. He has been contributing to Dallas Weekly since 2021. He is also the publisher of Protean Magazine, a nonprofit literary publication.