The police force in Austin, Texas made excellent use of its enormous budget when it mobilized a helicopter, SWAT team, two military-grade armored vehicles, a drone, and no fewer than 80 cops to pull over a woman driving in her car with her chihuahua.
This puzzling scene was witnessed by Intercept reporter Seth Harp, who upon seeing it initially thought he had stumbled upon a hostage situation or active shooter. Instead, it was a hysterical response by a militarized police department to stopping a car that they thought—through the city’s own failing—was stolen.
The car belonged to 24-year-old Lauren Mestas, who a couple of days prior had witnessed an off-duty officer fatally shooting a man at an BLM rally. Shaken, she parked her car in the lot at her apartment complex, but couldn’t find it when she went to look for it later. Thinking it had been stolen, she called the city and reported it as such. She found it later while walking her dog, and called 311 to retract her earlier report.
That Monday, Mestas drove her car to the bank to break some bills for her job. A cruiser from the state’s Department of Public Safety began trailing her, following her for five minutes before hitting the siren and lights. She realized, then, that the assumption was that she had stolen her car.
Mestas’ car, a 2001 Toyota 4Runner, also had the words “BROWN PRIDE” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” and “FUCK THESE RACIST POLICE” written across the windows. Was that the impetus for classifying the stop as “high-risk,” which is employed when an officer believes someone in the car has committed a serious crime? Was it because, in her panic, Mestas stopped the car in the middle of the lane, instead of pulling to the shoulder?
Harp reports that he came across the scene about an hour after Mestas had been pulled over. He said that in addition to at least 80 cops, emergency vehicles included a fire truck, ambulance, two BearCat armored personnel carriers.
I had only been there a few moments when an APD SWAT team arrived. They pulled up in eight blacked-out Chevrolet Tahoes with all the insignia removed, and commenced to unload an arsenal of military weapons and body armor from big drawers that pulled out of the beds. The sound of multiple firearms being locked and loaded echoed from the face of the apartment building across the street. One SWAT officer with tribal tattoos had his shirt off as he changed uniforms. A SWAT sniper with a heavy backpack went trotting off in the direction of Aussie’s, the sand volleyball bar, presumably to find a shooter’s nest in the urban terrain.
A vehicle like a refrigerated truck pulled up, and police technicians placed an antenna on the roof and busied themselves assembling some kind of machine in the cargo area. The surface of Mars would have seemed a more suitable place for the thing that they eventually rolled out than the First Street Bridge. It was a bomb robot on a platform of tracked wheels the size of an ATV, bright silver in color. It must have made some kind of ultrasonic noise when they booted it up, because it set a dog walker’s clutch of terriers barking.
Mestas never got out of her car, nor did she move to turn down her blasting music, which she said drowned out orders to exit her vehicle. “They might have thought I had a weapon or something,” she told the Intercept. As a first-generation Mexican American, “I didn’t want to give them any reason to think I was a threat.”
The ordeal concluded when a bomb robot smashed in a window with the words “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE,” written across it. Mestas was taken to the station and released within an hour, and no one offered to pay for the damages inflicted on her car.
Despite the city’s apparently limitless police resources, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is fighting back against an unanimously-passed City Council bill that would cut the department’s funding by up to a third. In retaliation, Abbott and other Republican leaders proposed a bill to freeze the property tax revenues of any Texas city that reduces the budget of its police department, and also vowed to deploy even more DPS troopers to “stand in the gap.”