AUSTIN (KXAN) — Friday, attorneys representing Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor continued presenting their case after the state rested Wednesday. Taylor is on trial for murder in the death of Michael Ramos.
Taylor shot and killed Ramos, 42, during an incident with police back in April 2020 at a south Austin apartment complex parking lot. Taylor is on administrative leave with APD.
Additional officers introduced as witnesses
After calling several APD officers the jury had already heard from, the defense introduced officers who were on the scene with Taylor but who were not called by state prosecutors.
Katrina Ratcliff, who worked at the Austin Police Department in 2020, was the first of those police witnesses. Ratcliff no longer works at the department.
Ratcliff testified that she believed Ramos’ vehicle was moving toward her and another officer, standing next to the patrol car closest to Ramos’ stolen Prius, in the moments before Taylor shot.
“Where did you think the car was going?” the defense asked. “At me and [Officer] Darrell [Cantu-Harkless],” she responded.
Ratcliff testified that she had been subpoenaed by both the state and the defense but was only called to testify by the defense. She claimed prosecutors seemed thrown off when she mentioned she wanted to consult her attorneys prior to meeting with them.
“You didn’t feel like you needed an attorney to talk to them, but you felt like you needed one to talk to us?” the state asked. Ratcliff responded, “Yes.”
The defense also called APD Officer Valerie Tavarez, another officer on the scene who was not called by the state. She also testified to where she believed Ramos to be going after he got back into his vehicle.
“I think he’s made it clear to that point that he doesn’t want to comply with officers and he’s going to try to get away from us any way that he can,” Tavarez said.
She also testified that she was “not in a position to take shots at the vehicle.”
“I was in a confined space where I was unable to get in line (next to other officers) in order to safely engage the suspect, or Ramos. That’s why I positioned myself behind Christopher Taylor because I knew his position was lethal coverage,” she said.
When one of Taylor’s attorneys, Ken Ervin, later asked if she would have shot Ramos “at about the same time,” should she have had been in position to, she said: “I believe so, because I believed the vehicle was coming directly towards us.”
State prosecutors asked both officers to say, using a photo of the scene, that if Ramos would have pulled directly out of his parking spot, he still would not have hit a police vehicle.
Previous coverage of this trial:
- Defense takes over in APD officer’s murder trial
- Prosecutors rest case in APD officer’s murder trial, defense takes over
- State calls use-of-force expert in APD officer’s murder trial
- Prosecutors expect to wrap mid-week in APD officer’s murder trial
- APD Officer Christopher Taylor’s statement read during murder trial
APD officers back on the stand
During his opening statement, Doug O’Connell — one of Taylor’s attorneys — said the defense would call back APD officers the jury has already heard from. That included Detective Benjamin Hart and officers Darrell Cantu-Harkless, James Morgan and Mitchell Pieper. All were on the scene with Taylor.
Why didn’t you shoot Michael Ramos?
The defense asked each of those officers why they didn’t shoot Ramos.
Hart said he had turned away from Ramos briefly to assess the scene, which is when he heard shots fired by Taylor.
“I turned, and by the time I looked up, the car was turning right and driving away from us,” Hart responded.
The jury watched Hart’s body camera video during cross-examination by the state. This time the jury saw more of that video, including the moments after the shooting.
The defense played Cantu-Harkless’ video again as well — asking him to point out why officers approached the way they did and in the area they did.
When Cantu-Harkless was asked why he didn’t shoot at Ramos, he said his positioning would have made it ineffective. He was the officer positioned closest to Ramos, he testified.
“Thinking the car is coming at me, no matter how many times I shoot at it — it’s not going to stop a moving car,” he testified.
Pieper was training in 2020 and shot Ramos with a bean bag round. He was asked to walk through each of his actions as he interacted with Ramos before again asking why Pieper did not shoot Ramos with his pistol.
“Is there a reason why you did not shoot Mr. Ramos with a bullet?” Ken Ervin, one of Taylor’s attorneys, asked Pieper.
“At the time, I had the less lethal, I guess. That was my role. I expect other officers who are providing lethal coverage to protect me as well as other officers on scene,” Pieper responded.
Morgan, Pieper’s field training officer (FTO) in 2020, responded that because of his positioning, he did not feel justified shooting: “I was looking at the driver’s side of that vehicle. I did not feel that I could justify shots based on my position.”