Austin, TX – Newly-elected Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza said he plans to present all cases of alleged police misconduct to grand juries after he takes office in January.
The officer-involved shooting of 42-year-old Michael Ramos, a convicted vehicle thief who was fatally shot after nearly running over police with a stolen vehicle during a standoff in April, will be at the top of his investigation list, Garza told KXAN on Nov. 4.
“It’s one of the first cases that we will take a look at when I take office in January,” he said. “My heart continues to break for the Ramos family that they have had to wait so long for justice.”
Garza said it should be up to citizens to decide whether or not officers who use deadly force were justified in doing so.
“We’ve been clear throughout this campaign that we think our community needs to have the power to decide whether a law enforcement officer has engaged in misconduct,” the district attorney-elect declared.
“The voters in Travis County sent a clear and resounding message…They expect a criminal justice system that’s fair and equal for everyone — regardless of the color of their skin, how much income they have or their immigration status,” he said. “That’s the system that we set out to build, one that meets the aspirations of our community.”
The fatal encounter between Austin police and Ramos began at approximately 6:31 p.m. on April 24, when someone called 911 to report that a man and a woman “appeared to be using narcotics” inside a gold Toyota Prius parked in a lot of an apartment complex on South Pleasant Valley Road, according to the death report completed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office.
“They’re in the car smokin’ crack and cookin’ meth,” the caller said in the 911 recording released by Austin police. “And I seen him with a gun. He had a gun, too.”
The caller told the dispatcher the male suspect “has a gun to this lady” and was “holding it up” and “pointing it at her.”
“As officers responded to the area, an update to the call indicated the male subject had a gun,” the Attorney General’s Office report read. “Officers requested the assistance of Air 1 (helicopter) and K-9, but they were not immediately available.”
Officers quickly determined the vehicle involved in the call had previously been reported as stolen, the Statesman reported.
In an effort to lessen the likelihood of the suspect trying to flee, officers “strategically parked their patrol vehicles” to block the exit, according to the report.
Because the call had been labeled as “gun urgent,” police ordered the occupants of the suspect vehicle to “show their hands” and to exit the car, the Attorney General’s Office said.
The officers then asked the male, later identified as Ramos, to lift his shirt and turn in a circle so they could visibly check him for weapons.
“The male subject initially complied with commands but eventually became non-compliant and verbally confrontational,” according to the report.
Ramos demanded to know why police were pointing guns at him and told them to put them away, then ultimately “walked back toward the driver’s door, where he “remained non-compliant and verbally confrontational,” the report read.
Due to the nature of the call and the information the caller provided, officers were concerned Ramos had a gun inside the vehicle and wanted to keep him from getting back inside, but the suspect ignored their repeated commands to back away from the open driver’s door.
Police were also aware the suspect could still potentially be hiding a weapon on his person, the report noted.
“Officers decided to deploy a less-lethal munition to gain compliance,” the Attorney General’s Office said. “The less-lethal munition struck the front of the male subject on the left side of his body but did not prove to be effective as the male subject quickly entered the driver’s door of the Toyota Prius.”
Ramos slammed the door shut and started the car’s engine, ignoring officers’ commands to turn the vehicle off.
Seconds later, Ramos accelerated forward from his parking spot.
Dashcam footage showed the officers as they scrambled out of the path of the fleeing vehicle.
“Fearing the male subject intended to use the Toyota Prius as a deadly weapon, one patrol officer fired his patrol rifle, striking the male driver,” the report read.
The suspect vehicle crashed into another vehicle in the lot before coming to a stop.
Officers then approached the Pruis and pulled Ramos out in order to apply medical aid.
The suspect was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Investigators determined Ramos was not in possession of a gun at the time of the shooting, according to the Statesman.
The female passenger who was inside the suspect vehicle prior to the officer-involved shooting was uninjured and was not charged with any offenses, police said in the video release.
Ramos was no stranger to law enforcement, and had served time in jail on multiple occasions for a string of various offenses over the years, the Statesman reported.
In addition to being convicted of motor vehicle thefts in the past, Ramos also had a history of fleeing from police when they tried to pull him over.
“It probably made him think he could do it again,” Tyrone Ross told the paper.
Ross, 42, said he grew up with Ramos and served time with him in the Travis County State Jail.
He said he witnessed the officer-involved shooting, which he determined was unjustified, the Statesman reported.
“He showed police all the signs that he wasn’t going to hurt them,” Ross declared. “Him driving away from the scene doesn’t give them the right to shoot him.”
The internal investigation into the officer-involved shooting remains ongoing.
Protesters have demanded that Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor, who fired three rounds that killed Ramos, be fired and sent to prison for murder.
They also shut down Interstate 35 on multiple occasions to demand “justice” for Ramos, according to the Statesman.
“Apparently to me, it was all set up. And I know that for a fact,” Ramos’ mother, Brenda Ramos, told KXAN. “They murdered him.”
Officer Taylor and Officer Mitchell Pieper have both been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, KTBC reported.
Officer Pieper fired a single less-lethal round at Ramos during the incident, according to Austin police.