AUSTIN (KXAN) — Wednesday, state prosecutors rested their case against Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor, who is on trial for murder in the death of Mike Ramos. Taylor’s attorneys have now taken over.
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.
Defense opening statement
The defense opted to reserve its opening statement at the start of the trial and instead gave it Wednesday afternoon before calling a first witness.
In that opening statement, the defense walked the jury through what evidence it would present moving forward. That will include additional officers at the scene who were not called by the state, dash camera video the jury hasn’t yet seen and additional expert witnesses who will testify to APD training and the scene.
Doug O’Connell, one of Taylor’s attorneys, asked the jury to look at all the facts and to consider why the state didn’t ask certain questions or bring certain evidence forward.
“When we ask the questions that you need to hear, and you get those answers, we’re confident that you will determine that Chris Taylor’s actions were reasonable given what he was perceiving in the seconds before he had to take the shot. Thank you very much,” O’Connell finished his opening statement.
Defense: First witnesses
The defense brought several Austin Police Department experts to the stand as its first witnesses. The first three all served at some time as Austin Police Department academy instructors.
Taylor’s attorneys first had Jonathan Slayton, a firearms instructor, walk through the training plan he created for the department’s rifle course, which officers are required to complete to carry a rifle on-duty.
Slayton testified that Taylor took a full 40-hour rifle course in 2019 and then a 20-hour course in 2020, roughly two months before shooting Ramos.
The jury then heard from APD Officer Jeff Woodward, who testified to how the department trains officers to react to different situations, including high-risk traffic stops and barricaded subject calls.
The third witness was APD Sergeant Steven McCormick, who participated in the early stages of the department’s investigation of this shooting. McCormick testified that he helped start the interview and evidence process with other officers on scene at the time of the shooting.
He also interviewed the passenger of the vehicle, Ramos’ girlfriend, he testified.
Previous coverage of this trial:
- 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
- Medical Examiner walks through autopsy of Michael Ramos
- APD officers testify in fellow officer’s murder trial
- ‘I would take that back’: Woman who called 911 testifies
- Witness video shown in first day of APD officer murder case
- Opening statements wrap up in murder trial involving APD officer
Prosecution: Final expert witnesses
Wednesday morning, the jury again heard from use-of-force expert Seth Stoughton. The professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and the faculty director of the Excellence in Policing and Public Safety program was the final witness for the state.
Stoughton has testified in several high-profile police trials previously as a use-of-force expert, he said. That included the trial for Derek Chauvin, according to the school he’s employed by. Chauvin is the former Minneapolis police officer found guilty of all of the charges against him in the May 2020 death of George Floyd.
Stoughton testified Tuesday that based on his analysis of the scene, Ramos was a flight risk but did not present a risk of serious injury or death to anyone in the area, including officers. When asked if he believed deadly force was appropriate by officers in this case, Stoughton testified that based on generally accepted police practices, he did not.
On Wednesday, the defense spent more than two hours cross-examining Stoughton. Taylor’s attorneys questioned whether his testimony was relevant to the jury as he testified to generally accepted police practices while the jury works to determine whether Taylor violated state law.
“I think the jury can determine how much value it is,” Stoughton responded.
The jury also heard from Dr. Wilson C. “Toby” Hayes on Tuesday afternoon. He is the president of an expert witness and consulting firm that specializes in injury biomechanics.
“I often describe to juries that, if they are properly interpreted, the injuries can tell the story as to what happened,” Hayes said. He later added: “In shooting reconstructions, it is, in fact, the wounds that tell the story.”
Hayes testified to what he believed Ramos to be doing when he was hit by the bullets fired by Taylor or fragments of those bullets. He walked the jury through each and said he believed Ramos to be driving away from officers when he was shot three times.
“I believe that as a consequence of the above analysis, that Mr. Ramos or his vehicle did not at any time present an imminent threat of death or bodily injury,” Hayes testified.
Hayes had a presentation the state hoped to show to the jury, but Judge Dayna Blazey ruled it couldn’t be shown because it wasn’t given to the defense prior to her discovery deadline. He used a drawing of the outline of a body and state attorneys to demonstrate the injuries Ramos had.