AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following Friday’s deadly officer-involved shooting in southeast Austin, KXAN is looking into the Austin Police Department’s policy when it comes to using deadly force.
Michael Brent Ramos, 42, was pronounced dead on Friday night after Austin police officers fired shots at him while responding to a drug-related 911 call.
The department’s policy states that reasonable force is permitted in instances when drugs or weapons may be a factor, when there’s a risk of escape and when there’s potential for injury to citizens, officers or subjects.
According to APD policy, deadly force is permissible when, “The officer reasonably believes that there is an imminent or potential risk of serious bodily injury or death to any other person if the subject is not immediately apprehended.”
Before officers arrived on scene at South Pleasant Valley Road Friday night, a 911 caller told APD a man was holding a gun in the air during a drug deal.
Manley says the car Ramos was in was involved in a theft and evading incident the day before. The department says he was also a suspect in multiple burglaries before that.
A group of officers responded and approached the car together when they arrived. The department said officers asked the man to step out of the car, and initially he got out, but did not comply with the officers’ commands.
In a news conference Friday night, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley detailed what happened when police arrived at the scene.
“He is yelling back at the officers various things and the officers are telling him not to get back in the car and to keep his hands in the air and telling him to step away from the vehicle. At one point, they decided to deploy the less lethal, because again they were not getting the compliance that they were asking for,” said Manley.
The non-lethal shot, a bean-bag round, was fired by APD officer Mitchell Pieper, according to Manley.
On Friday, Manley says that after non-lethal shot was fired, the suspect got back into the vehicle and drove out of the parking space — at which time the lethal gunshot was fired.
Manley says officer Christopher Taylor fired an unspecified amount of shots at Ramos. Officer Taylor, commissioned in 2014, was also involved in a deadly shooting in downtown Austin in July 2019, APD reports.
After the shooting, protestors and social justice advocates questioned whether an officer was within rights to fatally shoot the suspect as he was driving away.
The department initially said a female was in the passenger seat of the car. On Monday, the department clarified that after reviewing video, investigators determined the woman was not in the passenger seat, and was rather outside of the vehicle, when Ramos tried to drive away.
Chief Manley says the Texas Rangers are joining the investigation. The APD Special Investigations Unit will independently review the incident.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore says she is strongly committed to maximum transparency to address community concerns, saying in a statement:
“I must emphasize that this is a criminal investigation to determine whether the officer’s conduct constitutes a prosecutable offense. Therefore, collection and preservation of evidence is critical, and every effort must be made to protect the integrity of the investigation. For example, we would not approve the release of certain facts before witnesses are interviewed.”
With approval from Moore, Manley says body camera footage from the officer will be released at “our earliest opportunity throughout the investigation once we’ve reached the point where that video will not impact the integrity of the investigation.”
As of Monday afternoon, Manley said the department had interviewed six officers who were on-scene at the time of the shooting and 24 witnesses.
Manley added that a search warrant was granted for the Prius Ramos was in, and officers searched and processed the vehicle. Manley said he could not confirm whether a gun was found in the vehicle, yet, because it could impact witness statements.
“We have many witnesses that have yet to be interviewed, and I do not want to put out information that they would not be aware of that would influence or change the statement that they may make,” Manley said.
Social justice advocates are calling for Manley, along with Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay and Assistant City Manager Ray Arellano to step down following the latest officer involved shooting.
“Here we have a man who insisted many, many times that he simply did not have a gun, and I’m not sure how many times a person has to say that to be believed,” said Sukyi McMahon of the Austin Justice Coalition. “I think we can probably find a lot of issues with their policies and how they read them or how they’re trained in them.”