Grand Jury Indicts APD Officer in Shooting of Michael Ramos

Protesters gathered outside of the Texas State Capitol grounds last June. (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

A Travis County grand jury has indicted Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor on a charge of first-degree murder for the fatal shooting of Michael Ramos at a Southeast Austin apartment complex on April 24, 2020, a source close to the case confirms to the Chronicle.

The Statesman reports that a warrant has been issued for Taylor’s arrest, but as of Wednesday evening, he had not been booked into the Travis County jail. Travis County District Attorney José Garza could not confirm or deny the indictment, because state law prevents him from doing so until a subject is in custody.

The police response that led to the fatal shooting began with a 911 caller falsely claiming that Ramos was doing drugs in his vehicle, was threatening a female companion, and that he had a gun. Cell phone video recorded by bystanders and seen widely in the days following the shooting shows Ramos with both hands in the air while the eight officers on scene shout commands at him. Body cam footage later released by APD appears to show Ramos in a state of confusion. “What the fuck is going on?” he says at one point.

In both the bystander and body-cam footage, no attempt is made by officers to de-escalate; eventually, rookie APD Officer Mitchell Pieper follows orders and shoots Ramos with a “less lethal” lead-pellet round – the same munitions that led to traumatic injuries among protestors against police violence later in the summer – after which Ramos enters his car and begins slowy driving away. At that point, Taylor fires at the vehicle, fatally wounding Ramos.

Pieper and Taylor were placed on paid administrative leave following the incident, as is standard procedure, but outgoing APD Chief Brian Manley has thus far declined to discipline either officer, although the Internal Affairs investigation into Taylor has concluded. Taylor is also under criminal investigation and faces potential disciplinary action for his role in the killing of Mauris DeSilva in 2019.

It is believed that today’s indictment is the first murder charge brought against an Austin police officer for on-duty use of force in the city’s history. The killing of the unarmed Ramos, a Black and Latino man, came just weeks before George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, whose murder trial began this week. Together, the two killings inspired mass demonstrations against police brutality in Austin throughout the summer of 2020, along with calls for the firing of Manley, his second-in-command Troy Gay, and his civilian supervisor, Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano. All three men remain employed by the city.

Former Travis County D.A. Margaret Moore announced in a late-night email on May 29 – one day before protestors hit the streets to demand justice for Ramos and Floyd – that her office would present the case to a grand jury. In July, after Moore was defeated by Garza in the Democratic primary run-off, she announced that she would instead let Garza present the case once he took office in January. The new D.A. ran on a progressive platform committed to police accountability, but cases against officers are notoriously difficult to win – and a murder charge will set the bar even higher.

Brenda Ramos, Michael’s mother, has pursued justice in her son’s death for nearly a year. In the past, she has detailed her frustrations with APD and Travis County officials for delaying action in her son’s case. “I have cried every day,” Ramos said at a June 11 City Council meeting. “I have been heartbroken by the loss of my only child.”