The biggest moments from Austin police officer Christopher Taylor’s trial so far
Photo by Jay Gunner/Austin American-Statesman. Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor talks with his attorney, Doug O’Connell, during a break in the murder trial at the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center on Monday. Taylor is accused of killing Mike Ramos in 2020.
Monday, October 30, 2023 By Andrew Weber, KUT
Today begins the second week of the murder trial of Austin police officer Christopher Taylor, who shot and killed Mike Ramos in 2020. Ramos’ shooting, along with the killing of George Floyd, sparked weeks of protests for racial justice that year.
Police responded to a 911 call about drug activity at a Southeast Austin apartment complex in April 2020. After officers attempted to detain Ramos in the parking lot, Taylor shot him three times, killing him as he fled in a vehicle.
Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza charged Taylor with murder in 2021.
Prosecutors presented their case to jurors last week. The defense is scheduled to present its arguments this week.
Here’s a summary of what’s happened so far and what to expect next.
Events prior to the shooting
“In this case, you have an opportunity … that many juries don’t have,” District Attorney Dexter Gilford told jurors in opening arguments last Monday, noting the rarity of police being prosecuted for on-duty shootings.
While Guilford condemned the police response to the call at the Rosemont at Oak Valley Apartments off Pleasant Valley Road, he acknowledged that Ramos was not perfect.
Gilford said Ramos “stole cars” and “allegedly had credit card involvement.”
Guilford then called Ramos’ half-sister, Clavita McMillan Brooks, to the stand. She said Ramos was a “clown” and that their relationship was strained, largely because of his struggles with drug abuse. She talked him sober the last time she saw him.
“He wanted to, but he didn’t know how to do it,” she said.
Travis County Medical Examiner Dr. Keith Pinkard told the jury that cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, bath salts and marijuana were discovered in his system during the autopsy.
During cross-examination, Taylor’s attorneys suggested that Ramos acted unpredictably as a result of his drug use and previously documented bipolar disorder.
The gold Prius that Ramos was driving was reported to police one day before the shooting. This report did not indicate that the suspect was violent.
Police searching for the Prius received a 911 call on April 24 about the vehicle. The caller indicated that two people were in the car using drugs and that the suspect was carrying a weapon.
On Tuesday, prosecutors called the woman who made that call, Miko Scott, to the stand. Scott was visiting her son, who was staying with his girlfriend at the apartment complex.
During Guilford’s questioning, Scott offered a tearful apology to Mike Ramos’ mother, Brenda, after revealing that she had never seen Ramos carry a gun; I just heard he has one.
“I told them he had a gun. I thought he had a gun. I never saw the guy had a gun,” she said. “I never saw a gun.”
Scott then said she felt like she shot Ramos herself.
“This is how I feel,” she said. “I feel like I shot him.”
Taylor’s lawyers immediately seized on that, pointing out that she did the right thing by calling the police because she thought Ramos had a gun.
Failed to communicate
Prosecutors said Ramos’ death was due to a systematic failure in planning, training and execution.
After the 911 call, seven officers gathered to decide how to respond. Police were asked to search for Ramos’ car. The alert did not indicate he would be armed, although the 911 call indicated he was.
Officers said they feared Ramos had a gun, so they tried to use their cars to surround him in the parking lot, which ended in a dead end.
“Get your guns ready,” Officer Ben Hart, who coordinated the plan, is heard on body camera footage telling other officers.
Eventually, the officers ended up blocking off the area with their cruisers and pointed a so-called less-lethal rifle, two handguns and four long rifles at Ramos.
Ramos was exhausted, did not immediately respond to commands from several officers, and was shot with a bean bag filled with lead pellets from a less-lethal rifle by Mitchell Pepper, an officer who was new to patrol.
Prosecutors said there was no apparent contact with Ramos. One of the officers dealt with him directly, called him by name and suggested that he calm down. Another, presumably Taylor, indicated that he was about to be “touched,” meaning he was shot with Pepper’s less-lethal rifle. On the stand, Bieber could not immediately remember what orders he was following when he fired the shot, and said he considered pulling his gun during the ordeal.
Gilford suggested that Ramos was motivated by fear, because he did not know that the gun would not kill him and that he did not pose a threat to the officers. He noted that Ramos said: “You’re scaring me, dog!” after showing officers that he was not carrying a weapon while reviewing camera footage.
After Bieber shot Ramos with the beanbag, he fell into his car, then drove down a dead-end street, away from the officers. Taylor shot him three times.
The car as a weapon
Four of the officers who were at the scene indicated that they feared Ramos would use his car as a weapon, but prosecutors ignored this argument during questioning.
The most notable line of questioning came from Special Prosecutor Gary Cobb. On Wednesday, Cobb questioned Hart, the officer (now a sergeant) who led the planning of how to intercept Ramos.
Initially, Hart said he and other officers, including Taylor, who was standing next to him, were in danger of being hit by the Prius.
“There was no way out that I was aware of at the other end, so he had to go around us or pass through us,” Hart told Cobb. “I couldn’t believe he could get around us.”
After a tense series of questioning, Hart changed his testimony.
Cobb: (At this point), your life’s not in danger at all, is it?
HART: At that point, no.
Cobb: No one would have to kill Michael Ramos to defend your life, right?
Hart: I don’t think so.
Cobb: And you don’t need to kill Michael Ramos to be able to defend your life, right?
Cobb: And you don’t need to kill Michael Ramos in order to defend anyone else’s life, right?
HART: Not that I knew…at this point I didn’t know.
Cobb: At this point the answer is no.
Bieber, who shot Ramos with the less-lethal rifle, and James Morgan, who was training Bieber, also testified that the officers were not in the path of Ramos’ car as he fled.
Prosecutors say they will continue their case through this week, with two out-of-state expert witnesses appearing today and Tuesday. The defense will then have the opportunity to present evidence. The responding officers will likely return to court to testify.
The trial is expected to continue through at least this week.
This story was produced as part of Austin MonitorReporting partnership with KUT.
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