Prosecution Makes Opening Statements in Murder Trial of APD Officer

The Chronicle will be in the courtroom and have ongoing coverage of the Christopher Taylor trial. Catch up on the case and the ramifications of the verdict in Austin Sanders’ feature story.

Booking photo of defendant Christopher Taylor (Provided by Austin Police Department)

Travis County prosecutors began making their case against Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor during the first day of evidence presentation in the long-awaited trial. Taylor stands accused of murdering Michael Ramos in the line of duty three years ago.

Dexter Gilford, who leads the Civil Rights Unit at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, delivered opening arguments for the prosecution. During his 45 minute presentation, Gilford attempted to convey that the Austin Police Department knew Ramos as someone who engaged in criminal activity like burglary and auto theft, but that they had no reason to think he posed a violent threat when officers engaged with him on April 24, 2020. Gilford also claimed that Taylor violated APD training protocols around shooting at fleeing vehicles when he fired the three shots that killed Ramos.

For prosecutors to secure a guilty verdict, they will have to convince the jury that when Taylor killed Ramos, neither Taylor nor any other individual at the scene faced an imminent threat that justified the use of lethal force.

“The evidence will show that Taylor … was taking aim at a man attempting to flee from officers,” Gilford told the jury, referring to the fact that after Ramos was shot with a lead-pellet round by a different officer, he fell into his vehicle and began driving in a direction away from the officers standing before him with guns drawn. “At the time Taylor fired those three shots,” Gilford continued, “not a single person was in any danger of being struck by the vehicle Ramos was driving.”

The 911 call that drew officers to the parking lot of the Rosemont apartments, where Ramos and his girlfriend were sitting inside a Toyota Prius that was believed to be stolen, indicated that Ramos had a gun. That was not true, but officers believed they were preparing to engage someone who was armed. But, prosecutors emphasized, those officers also had access to a citywide “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) bulletin, written by an officer who responded to a suspected auto theft call the previous night involving Ramos, that did not include any information indicating that Ramos was armed or dangerous.

Taylor’s defense attorneys opted not to deliver their opening arguments after prosecutors did, instead reserving their time for a later point in the trial. But questions asked by attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell throughout the day signal where their strategy may be headed. In response to questioning from Ervin, two APD officers who had interactions with Ramos in the stolen Prius the day before he was shot and killed testified that a vehicle could be used as a deadly weapon. But a key question facing jurors will be whether or not they view Ramos driving away after being hit with the lead-pellet round as a deadly threat.

Jurors got their first glimpse of the shooting – which was recorded from a variety of angles, including by body-worn cameras on the eight officers who confronted Ramos – by watching cell phone video recorded by Tavon Jefferson, who at the time lived at the apartment complex where Ramos was killed. Jefferson’s footage, recorded from an angle behind and to the left of where Ramos and the Prius were, shows the vehicle turning toward the right and away from the line of officers and vehicles in front of Ramos. The body-worn camera footage is expected to be introduced later in the trial.

Ramos’ sister, Clavita McMillan, also testified today. McMillan said Ramos was “always the little jokester” and that as his big sister, she would always be the one “to fuss at him. … I would try and guide him for the right thing to do.” One of the ways was to help him work through a substance abuse disorder. Recalling a conversation the siblings had in January 2020, four months before the younger brother would be killed, McMillan said Ramos told her he wanted to move in with her to “get his life together. …He wanted to get clean,” she said. “But he didn’t know how.”

Prosecutors are expected to continue presenting their case Tuesday, Oct 24.

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