Austin Police Officer Says His Life Was Not Under Threat During Fatal Michael Ramos Encounter

Prosecutor Gary Cobb during the Taylor trial on Oct. 24 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The Chronicle will be in the courtroom and provide ongoing coverage of the Christopher Taylor trial. Catch up on the case and the ramifications of the verdict in this story.

During the third day of testimony in the murder trial involving Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor, another officer who responded to the 911 call that led to Michael Ramos’ death said from the witness stand that his life was not under threat during the encounter and that his decision to not fire his rifle was reasonable.

The admission came at the tail end of a lengthy line of questioning from Gary Cobb, a special prosecutor brought onto the case by Travis County District Attorney José Garza. Cobb was questioning Benjamin Hart, who is currently a detective in the Austin Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit. In 2020 – when Taylor killed Ramos – he was a patrol officer. During the encounter, both Hart and Taylor were armed with their department-issued AR-15 rifles but only one of the officers – Taylor – ended up firing at Ramos.

Referring to footage of the encounter captured by the body-worn cameras of officers at the scene that shows Ramos drive away from the officers after being hit with a lead pellet round, Cobb asked Hart, “Your life was in no danger, was it?”

“At that point, no,” the officer responded.

Cobb then asked Hart whether or not Ramos needed to be killed to defend the life of anyone at the scene. “I don’t believe so,” Hart said.

Hart answered several questions indirectly, to Cobb’s apparent frustration. To wrap up his questioning, Cobb summarized facts about Hart and Taylor’s experience at APD and at the scene of the shooting. They both underwent the same training around how and when to use their AR-15 rifles, they both graduated from the Austin Police Academy, and they were both subject to the department’s code of conduct, Cobb pointed out. At the scene of the shooting, they were physically close to one another, with nothing obstructing either officer’s view of Ramos or the Prius that he drove away in.

“Yet, you made the decision not to fire your weapon,” Cobb said. “Was that a reasonable decision?”

“Yes sir,” Hart answered.

Neither side asked Hart whether he considered Taylor’s decision to fire reasonable. The Defense chose not to crossexamine Hart at all.

The exchange concluded what was the most aggressive line of questioning prosecutors have mounted since the trial began on Oct. 23, with Cobb pressing Hart when the officer offered vague, and at times digressive, responses to direct questions..

To pronounce a guilty verdict, jurors must be convinced that the decision to use lethal force during the confrontation was unreasonable. The testimony of an officer like Hart, armed with the same weapon and facing the same circumstances as Taylor but choosing not to use any force at all, could prove persuasive.

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