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.
Christopher Taylor’s defense will hinge on what he perceived Michael Ramos could have done in the moments before shooting him three times with an AR-15, rather than what Ramos actually did, defense attorney Doug O’Connell said in his opening statement to the jury on Nov. 1. As Taylor and his fellow officers faced Ramos in the parking lot of the Rosemont apartment complex in Southeast Austin on the evening of April 24, 2020, Taylor alone perceived Ramos as a threat that demanded the use of deadly force.
The threat Taylor’s attorneys are likely to argue the officer perceived is that Ramos – backed into a parking space, facing a line of officers with their guns drawn at him – intended to flee from the scene “through the officers or around the officers,” as O’Connell put it to the jury. That perception justified the killing, O’Connell said.
“We’re confident that you’ll determine that Chris Taylor’s actions were reasonable given what he was perceiving in the seconds before he had to take the shot,” O’Connell told jurors. During the state’s presentation of evidence last week, prosecutors showed video and a digital animation recreating the scene that shows Ramos driving away from officers in a Toyota Prius as Taylor shoots him.
We don’t yet know what Taylor’s defense attorneys believe he perceived in the seconds between when another officer shot Ramos with a lead pellet round and when he began driving away from officers, but David Gilden, a UT Austin professor specializing in perception and cognition, is expected to testify before the defense rests.
O’Connell also told jurors he and co-counsel Ken Ervin would ask the other officers who confronted Ramos why they didn’t shoot at the man, who they believed to have a gun but was later found to be unarmed. Two days into their case, O’Connell and Ervin have made good on that promise, but it is unclear, at this point, how much that testimony will help their client. One officer, Benjamin Hart, said he didn’t shoot because he looked to his left the moment Ramos drove off to see if any other officers behind him were preparing to fire. While he was looking away, Taylor shot and killed Ramos.
Prosecutors had already questioned an officer who was there, Darrell Cantu-Harkless. “If I thought the car was coming at me,” Cantu-Harkless said of his decision not to shoot, “no matter how many times I shot at it, it’s not going to stop a moving car.” Under questioning from prosecutor Dexter Gilford last week, Cantu-Harkless said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to use deadly force if he felt he or his fellow officers faced an imminent threat.
During that line of questioning, Gilford also suggested that a portion of Cantu-Harkless’ statement delivered to the Austin Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit, which is tasked with investigating officers accused of criminal conduct while on duty, may have come at the suggestion of Andrew Wunderlich, the SIU detective interviewing Cantu-Harkless. In that interview,the officer said he feared Ramos would shoot at the officers as he drove away, but he did not mention a fear that Ramos would use the vehicle as a deadly weapon (the fear that Taylor’s attorneys are likely to claim their client felt) until it was suggested by the SIU detective.
Prosecutors again asked Cantu-Harkless about his SIU statement during cross-examination of the witness on Nov. 3. Cantu-Harkless acknowledged that Wunderlich first suggested that the Prius could have posed a threat to officers, but in response to questions from O’Connell, the officer said he did not feel manipulated by the detective.
Taylor’s defense is expected to continue presenting evidence today, Nov. 3, and possibly into next week. Once they rest their case, each party will present closing arguments to the jury before they are sent off to deliberate on a verdict.
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