Austin, TX – An Austin police officer has been charged with murder over the fatal shooting of a man who nearly ran over police with a stolen vehicle last year.
A $100,000 warrant for Austin Police Department (APD) Officer Christopher Taylor was issued at 5:07 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Officer Taylor is currently out on bond, Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza confirmed on Thursday morning.
He faces a possible life sentence if convicted, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Shortly after he was elected, Garza promised the officer-involved shooting of 42-year-old career criminal Michael Ramos would be at the top of his investigation list, KXAN reported at the time.
“It’s one of the first cases that we will take a look at when I take office in January,” Garza said in November of 2020. “My heart continues to break for the Ramos family that they have had to wait so long for justice.”
He held a virtual press conference Thursday confirming the charge against Officer Taylor.
“Today we have taken a significant step towards justice for the Ramos family and for our community,” Garza told reporters. “My heart continues to break for the Ramos family and we still have much work ahead of us, but we know that holding law enforcement accountable when they break the law is critical to restoring the trust of our community and to ensuring its safety.”
He noted that it was the Travis County grand jury who “heard the evidence and the law” and determined “probable cause exists that Officer Taylor committed murder.”
Garza said he hopes that the grand jury’s decision has made it clear that “if law enforcement commit a crime, if they engage in misconduct, they will be held accountable.”
“That is what our community expects, and that is what our community is prepared to do through their role and function as grand jurors in Travis County,” he added.
Officer Taylor’s attorneys, Doug O’Connell and Ken Ervin, issued a statement regarding the charges on Wednesday night, KTBC reported.
“We are disappointed but sadly not surprised at this indictment,” the statement read. “As early as July of last year, then-DA candidate Jose Garza had made up his mind that Officer Taylor committed a crime and went so far as to offer an implied promise to indict him several months before being elected District Attorney or having access to any case evidence.”
“We would remind Mr. Garza that his sworn duty is not to be an advocate for one party months before knowing the facts. It is to see that justice is done,” Officer Taylor’s lawyers said. “Today’s indictment is not justice; it is the fulfillment of a campaign talking point and yet more evidence of antipolice bias. We look forward to presenting the facts of this case, in their entirety, to a panel of citizens not behind closed doors and not under his exclusive control.”
The fatal encounter between Austin police and Ramos began at approximately 6:31 p.m. on April 24, 2020, 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 Prius 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.
The indictment by a Travis County grand jury is the first time in decades an Austin officer has faced the charge for an on-duty shooting. The warrant for Taylor was issued at 5:07 p.m.
— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) March 11, 2021
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.
Protesters demanded that Officer 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.”
Brenda has also sued the city over her son’s death, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
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.
Garza said on Thursday the grand jury declined to charge Officer Pieper with aggravated assault.