A man has been arrested in Austin, Texas after he pushed a park ranger into Lake Austin. The park ranger had been attempting to disperse a crowd of people to comply with national social distancing rules implemented to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Video posted on social media shows the park ranger speaking to the group and asking them to keep six feet of distance between themselves. Later in the video, a man runs up and pushes the park ranger, sending the park ranger and the suspect tumbling backward into Lake Austin.
After a fall of several feet, the suspect climbs out of the lake and runs off. Brandon James Hicks was later arrested and faces a charge of attempted assault on a public servant.
An arrest affidavit obtained by KXAN states that police responded to the incident at around 4:54 p.m. on Thursday. The ranger told police that he had been attempting to disperse the group, who were unlawfully smoking and drinking in the park.
“Brandon’s intentional and reckless action could have caused the Ranger to strike his head on the dock as he was falling, and render himself unconscious in at least 3 feet of water where he could have drowned to death,” the affidavit said.
Hicks was arrested on Friday, and his bail is set at $7,500.
Police temporarily closed the park following the confrontation and praised witnesses who helped to identify Hicks.
"The patrons of the park actually came to the aid of the park ranger. Several people came up to the ranger and apologized for the guy’s behavior. That’s the Austin we know, and that’s the Austin we love," officer Justin Berry told the Austin Statesman.
"We just want to remind people to please be respectful and mindful that they’re working to make our parks a welcoming environment for everyone. ... Everyone’s been going to the parks, so the parks have been completely overcrowded," he added."
Kimberly McNeeley, Austin Parks and Recreation Department director, said in a statement: "Our rangers continue to engage residents on the proper use of park facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We ask that the public treat rangers with the same respect they wish to be shown to themselves. Public support is essential for Austin to meet the challenges of this pandemic."
The person who recorded the video told KXAN that they were glad the suspect had been arrested.
“The park ranger was actually being really sweet and understanding before,” they said.
Texas State Parks reopened on April 20 for day-use only. Governor Abbott put new restrictions on the park, including requiring visitors to wear face coverings and maintain a six-foot distance from individuals outside of their party. Groups of more than five people are also banned.
The video quickly went viral online, where people expressed their dismay over the incident.
"The guy got arrested," one user wrote. "And the park ranger got his phone destroyed. He’s a really sweet guy who didn’t deserve that at all."
Another, claiming to be a friend of the park ranger, added: "The park ranger is one of my friends and hes such a good guy. It's so sad to watch this."
"Honestly, this video made me so angry," one user remarked. "He's literally there for the dumbass's own safety and that's how they treat him. This disrespect of these people is too much."
While one user concluded: "That park ranger was being super niece. I’m glad that the person who pushed him went to jail."
The best way to prevent contracting or spreading coronavirus is with thorough hand washing and social distancing. If you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, which include persistent cough (usually dry), fever, shortness of breath, and fatigue, please call your doctor before going to get tested. For comprehensive resources and updates, visit the CDC website. If you are experiencing anxiety about the virus, seek out mental health support from your provider or visit NAMI.org.