AUSTIN (KXAN) — The state continued to bring witnesses Thursday 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.
K-9 unit body camera footage
Jared Retkofsky with the Austin Police Department’s K-9 unit was the final witness Thursday. His body camera video was shown to the jury.
In that body camera footage you can see Retkofsky’s K-9 looking for any guns around the apartment complex where Ramos was shot, but none were found.
In the footage you can hear protesters chanting.
Role of Taylor’s uncle debated in court
There was back and forth Thursday about how much information the jury should have about Taylor’s uncle, who is also employed with the Austin Police Department.
Sheldon Scott Askew was a manager within the unit that oversees police shooting investigations, several officers testified. Askew was also Taylor’s peer support officer and arrived on scene to act as such.
The state worked to prove that Taylor was treated unfairly because of his family connection. The defense, that Taylor’s uncle played no role in the investigation.
Ultimately, Judge Dayna Blazey ruled that Askew’s role as Taylor’s peer support officer was admissible but that his role as supervisor was not admissible at this stage.
“He was not the supervisor over this particular case,” Blazey said.
Medical Examiner presents autopsy
The Travis County Medical Examiner walked jurors through photos of Ramos’ autopsy, describing the injuries he sustained during the shooting.
Dr. Keith Pinckard said Ramos had three gunshot wounds: one to the head, one to the abdomen and one to the arm. The jury saw photos of those injuries Thursday.
Pinckard also testified that Ramos’ toxicology report showed he had illicit drugs in his system including methamphetamine and what is “known colloquially as bath salts.”
Testimony from EMS who treated Ramos
After roughly a day and a half of hearing from Austin Police officers on the scene with Taylor, the jury then heard from Austin-Travis County EMS who responded.
Eduardo Eguia Jr. said his unit was the first medical unit to reach Ramos after he was shot by Taylor.
Eguia said when he showed up at the scene in 2020, Ramos had been pulled out of his vehicle and was lying on the ground. He testified Ramos was still breathing but had severe injuries.
“The wound had exposed some skull and brain matter and usually those types of wounds are mortal,” Eguia said. Previous testimony indicated Taylor shot Ramos in the head with his department-issued AR-15. He also hit him in the abdomen and the arm, the Travis County Medical Examiner would later testify.
Equia, along with several other first responders, transported Ramos to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Testimony from APD officers on scene
First Thursday morning, the jury continued to hear from Austin Police Officers who were on the scene with Taylor when he shot and killed Ramos, including Officer Mitchell Pieper. He was a trainee on the scene the day of this shooting and fired a bean bag round at Ramos before Ramos started to drive away from officers.
The jury also heard the remaining testimony from APD officer James Morgan. The state pressed Morgan to tell the jury whether he would hesitate to kill someone if deadly force were being used against himself, someone else or another police officer.
“Generally speaking, no sir, I would not,” Morgan responded. That same line of questioning was asked of Pieper.
Wednesday, the state put APD patrol officer Darrell Cantu-Harkless and now-Detective Benjamin Hart on the stand, as well as officers who responded to the scene with Taylor.
Cantu-Harkless was the first to testify. He told the jury the call that led to the fatal shooting 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 leading up to the shooting.
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 Ramos 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 to it’s right, away from officers.
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.
Previous coverage of this trial:
- APD officers testify in fellow officer’s murder 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: 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 the 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.