AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thursday, 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.
Garcia testimony questioned
The defense started Thursday with remaining testimony from APD Sergeant Steven McCormick. He was with the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in 2020 and helped in the early stages of the investigation.
McCormick was the detective who interviewed Rebeca Garcia, Ramos’ girlfriend, after the shooting. She was in the passenger seat of Ramos’ stolen Prius when police made contact with Ramos. Before Ramos started to drive that car and was ultimately shot by Taylor, Garcia got out of the car and was later detained by police.
The defense worked to poke holes in some of Garcia’s previous testimony, which attorney Doug O’Connell warned jurors would be the case during his opening statement.
In Garcia’s testimony during the state’s portion of the trial, Garcia painted a picture of confusion and mistrust in her interactions with police directly after the shooting.
“They were asking me questions that I couldn’t relate to and I just wanted to know about Mike and they couldn’t tell me what was wrong or what had happened,” Garcia told the jury.
The detective who interviewed Garcia couldn’t testify to what Garcia said to him, but the defense had him paint a picture of the overall conditions of that interview, for example, showing that Garcia was not in handcuffs.
“Sergeant, did you mistreat her in any way?” O’Connell, one of Taylor’s attorneys, asked. The detective responded that no, he did not.
APD officers back on the stand
During his opening statement, O’Connell also said the defense would call back APD officers the jury has already heard from. Detective Benjamin Hart was the first of those officers and Officer Darrell Cantu-Harkless was next. Both were on the scene with Taylor.
Ken Ervin, another attorney for Taylor, questioned Hart about whether he spoke about the event to other witness officers after the officer-involved shooting, which was not allowed by the department during the initial investigation. Hart said he did not and reiterated that it’s not allowed.
It’s a line of questioning the state has brought up on several occasions. Prosecutors have questioned officers previously about why they were allowed to be transported together to APD buildings to give statements to investigators.
The defense said in its opening statements that it also intended to ask each of the officers why they personally didn’t shoot Ramos. Hart said he had turned away from Ramos briefly to assess the scene, which is when he heard the shots Taylor fired.
“I turned, and by the time I looked up, the car was turning right and driving away from us,” Hart responded.
Hart’s body camera video was played in 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.
The defense also asked Cantu-Harkless why he didn’t shoot at Ramos. He said his positioning would have made it ineffective.
“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.
Previous coverage of this 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
- 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
Defense opening statement
The defense reserved 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.
Last week, during their opening statement, state prosecutors used maps, photos and screenshots of body-worn camera footage to walk jurors through the events leading up to Ramos’ death. The state is working to prove Ramos was not a threat to anyone when he was shot.
“He [Taylor] has made a decision. A critical decision to violate his training…That decision is that if the car moves at all he’s going to shoot,” the prosecution told the jury in opening statements.