By Sandra Harris
Brendan Walsh, an independent online sleuth, has figured out the identity of the police officer who shot Austin teenager Brad Levi Ayala. Texas Monthly, a bourgeois media outlet, relied on Walsh’s investigation to contact the Austin Police, who confirmed on July 29 that Nicholas Gebhart, a seven-year APD veteran, was the officer who shot sixteen-year-old Ayala with a rubber bullet during the May Uprising.
Walsh, an Austinite with no prior investigative background, initiated the Instagram account @justice4ayala and began piecing together video and photo evidence to identify the officer who shot Levi Ayala on May 30.
An APD spokesperson responded to inquiries from Texas Monthly, “We can confirm that Officer Gebhart is the officer involved in this incident.”
In 2018, Gebhart was involved in the murder of Thomas Alvarez along with 6 other officers who fired their weapons in a chase after a carjacking. Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore later ruled that the officers were justified in their use of force and denied presenting the case to a grand jury for indictment.
Almost a month ago, Austin Police provided names of five police officers, stating they would be placed on paid administrative duty due to use of “less lethal” force during the uprisings. The incidents referenced included Brad Levi Ayala and 20-year-old Justin Howell, who was also shot in the head during protests. APD had not identified which incidents Officers Nicholas Gebhart, Kyu An, John Siegel, Derrick Lehman and Kyle Felton were involved with citing “ongoing investigations” as their reason for limiting the information.
“The public is being kept in the dark on an issue that didn’t just affect one victim of police brutality, but many,” Walsh told Texas Monthly. He also correctly assessed that cameras worn by police officers and other reforms have not provided any more transparency– which is why Gebhart has successfully been shielded by APD.
“We’ve cooperated with police on body camera experiments—they turn them off,” said Walsh. “We hear footage was available for police force and shootings, except it was destroyed. Video evidence gets turned in and sits with DAs for months, even years, while the public demands to see it.”
In May, APD adopted a new policy that would require video and audio footage to be released within 60 days of critical injuries or murders. Just this week, Austin Police released the video of the Mike Ramos shooting after City Manager Spencer Cronk had delayed the video release, stating APD had not followed proper procedure. APD announced on July 15 that they would also not be releasing “critical incident” videos related to the protests during within the 60-day window.
The people know they cannot wait for police “transparency.” There is no real justice that comes through these reforms. APD, like all police departments, are doing all they can to withhold information and provide cover for their officers who brutalize and murder the people. The attacks on youth like Brad Levi Ayala and Justin Howell have left permanent damage and they both face a long recovery from APD’s brutal violence.
Nicholas Gebhart permanently injured Brad Levi Ayala. He not only still has a job with pay and benefits at APD, but his connection to the attack on Ayala would have remained a secret if not for the diligent work of Walsh. Justin Howell’s attacker, and the others hurt by Austin Police have yet to be identified beyond the group of names APD released a month ago. Similarly, Garrett Foster’s killer, sergeant Daniel Scott Perry, who maliciously drove a vehicle into a group of protesters, remained shielded by APD, until exposed by Tribune of the People.
The large quantity of photos, videos, and documentation from protests that the state normally uses to surveil and track people were in this case used against the police. Unable to rely on usual bureaucratic methods to distract and delay responsibility, the people are ready to pursue real justice for those brutalized by the police and other reactionaries.