Doctors say ‘less lethal’ weapons used for crowd control can cause serious injuries: report

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“Less lethal” weapons wielded by police against protesters, including fired beanbags and rubber bullets, have caused skull fractures and other serious injuries, a group of Texas doctors says.


The Austin doctors treated 19 patients who sustained beanbag injuries during two days of Black Lives Matter protests in May, following the death of George Floyd.

Patients ranged in age from 16 to 54, and five of those injured had head injuries. Two had facial fractures and 12 had other injuries, including bruises, cuts and other bone fractures.

The doctors, in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, included images of CT scans to show brain and skull injuries and a photograph of a patient with a beanbag stuck in her face.

“I have been around the world and I have never seen beanbag injuries like this ever,” said Dr. Jayson Aydelotte, who helped author the letter, according to The Associated Press. “I always thought they bruised your chest and that is it.”

Aydelotte, a trauma surgeon at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, said that based on his experiences in the military, beanbag bullet injuries resemble those caused by a regular bullet. He said the doctors were surprised at the severity of the impact wounds suffered by the patients.

Patients were seen at a Level 1 trauma center in Austin. Seven underwent operations for their injuries, according to the letter.

“One patient presented with a depressed parietal skull fracture with associated subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhages, leading to emergency intubation, decompressive craniectomy, and a prolonged stay in the intensive care unit,” the doctors said. “Another patient presented with a depressed frontal bone fracture with retained beanbag, which was treated with an emergency craniotomy and cranioplasty.”

The doctors’ findings come during a nationwide reckoning about the use of force by police against largely peaceful protesters seeking racial justice.

Law enforcement officials have come under fire for using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds, as well as hitting people with batons and firing rounds of beanbags and rubber bullets at masses of people.

Police officials have said that such “less lethal” tactics should not cause penetrating injuries when used at appropriate distances.

“Although our report reflects the experience at only one center during a short period and we cannot determine the frequency of injuries when these munitions are used, these findings highlight the fact that beanbag munitions can cause serious harm and are not appropriate for use in crowd control,” the Texas doctors concluded. “Beanbag rounds have since been abandoned by our local law enforcement in this context.”

Austin’s police chief pledged in June to stop firing beanbag rounds into crowds after a teenage protester was critically hurt when he was shot in the head.

The physicians are hoping that their findings will help guide lawmakers around the nation in establishing new policing policies.


The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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