AUSTIN (KXAN) — The state continued to bring witnesses Wednesday in the trial of Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor, who was charged with murder in the death of Mike Ramos.
Taylor shot and killed Ramos, 42, during a confrontation with police back in April 2020 at a south Austin apartment complex parking lot. Taylor is on administrative leave with APD.
Testimony from APD officers on scene
Wednesday, the state put APD patrol officer Darrell Cantu-Harkless, James Morgan and now-Detective Benjamin Hart on the stand. All were officers who responded to the scene with Taylor.
Cantu-Harkless was the first to testify. He told the jury the call came out as a drug call and then was upgraded to a “gun urgent call,” meaning someone who has a gun but isn’t necessarily threatening anyone with it, he testified.
Cantu-Harkless said officers staged before they approached Ramos because they knew of previous offenses involving his vehicle. He said officers treated their interaction with Ramos as a high-risk traffic stop.
The jury watched Cantu-Harkless’ body camera video before mid-day, which showed officers planning their approach to Ramos and then their interaction with him until shots were fired by Taylor.
In the afternoon, the jury heard from Detective Benjamin Hart, also on the scene. He served as the lead officer at the time because he had the most experience, he testified.
Hart described being on the same specialized unit as Taylor, called the RISE unit, which has been discussed heavily during this trial. It was designed to address crime in the Riverside area. The jury also watched his body camera video and the body camera video of the officer standing behind Hart.
The most tense moments in the courtroom Wednesday were between prosecutors and Hart as the state pushed Hart to clearly tell the jury that the vehicle Ramos was in did not drive toward officers, but instead turned away from them.
Hart initially said he believed the vehicle may have come toward him and the other officers because Ramos was trapped and only had the options to “go around” or “go through,” but later said — after much back and forth between him and the prosecution — that it appeared to veer right.
The jury also saw Taylor’s body camera video Wednesday as part of Hart’s testimony. The prosecutors did not initially show the moments in the video where Taylor fired shots at Ramos.
Officer Morgan also took the stand Wednesday and the jury watched significant chunks of his body camera footage before the end of the day.
New witness video
A woman who lives in the apartment complex where Ramos was shot and killed by Taylor was one of the first witnesses Wednesday. She took a video from her bedroom of the initial interaction between Ramos and police, which the jury watched.
The state only showed a few seconds of the clip, and the woman had a thick screen over her window, which made it difficult to see much in the video.
Jennifer De La Garza told the jury she filmed from her third-story bedroom, which faced the incident until an officer hit Ramos with a bean bag round. She said after that, she got scared and stopped recording but continued to watch the incident unfold.
“They pulled him [Ramos] out [of the car], and then they put him down on the ground, handcuffed him and put him in a grass area and then put him in the paramedics and drove out with no lights or anything,” she said.
De La Garza told the jury that after Austin Police Officers came to get her video—it disappeared from her phone.
Previous coverage of this trial:
- ‘I would take that back’: Woman who called 911 testifies in APD officer’s murder trial
- Witness video shown in first day of APD officer murder case
- Opening statements wrap up in murder trial involving APD officer
- Jury selected in APD officer’s murder trial
- Judge grants mistrial motion in APD officer murder case
Previous day: Ramos’ girlfriend on the stand
One of the final witnesses jurors heard from Tuesday was Ramos’ girlfriend, Rebeca Garcia. She was with Ramos when he was shot and killed.
She told the jury she was in the passenger seat of Ramos’ car when police arrived and that one of the police officers on scene indicated she needed to get out of the car, so she did.
Garcia said she was on the ground, as police instructed when Ramos started to drive away and was shot.
“It’s hard to find, to trust people, especially the police,” Garcia said. “The police every time I see APD…I’m never going to forget that night and how—what was done. It’s scary.”
Testimony from woman who called 911 on Ramos
A woman who called 911 on Ramos, which led to his fatal interaction with law enforcement, admitted to jurors Tuesday that she told dispatch Ramos had a gun despite never seeing one.
Scott told the jury she went to pick her son up from the apartment complex where Ramos was sitting in his Prius. She said he was doing drugs and that neighbors were upset he was in the parking lot.
“If I could take anything back, I would take that back, sir. I would take that back, sir. I never seen that man with a gun,” Meko Scott said tearfully. She apologized to Ramos’ family.
Prosecutors played the 911 call between Scott and a dispatcher, where Scott told dispatch several times that Ramos had a gun.
“I feel like I’m the one who killed him,” she told the defense.
Photos of crime scene presented Tuesday morning
The first expert witness called to the stand Tuesday morning walked the jury through photos taken of the crime scene after the shooting.
Sergeant Shelly Holmes was on the Austin Police Department’s special investigations unit and was called in for the shooting in 2020 to work crime scene management, she said.
The photos shown to the jury included the bean bag round fired at Ramos, shell casings ejected from Taylor’s rifle and Ramos’ car after he was removed for medical treatment. Ramos’ mother had to exit the courtroom when a photo was shown of blood near the vehicle.
The photographs also showed a hatchet with a cover on it, what is believed to have been drugs and drug paraphernalia and stolen items — license plates, a passport, checkbooks and a credit card — inside of the car Ramos was driving.
The jury also heard from Mark Johnson Tuesday, the CEO of Visual Law Group, a forensic visualization company. The company put together a digital recreation of the scene, which could analyze where officers and even Ramos may be standing and looking.