The biggest moments from Austin police officer Christopher Taylor's murder trial so far
The first week of the murder trial of Austin police officer Christopher Taylor, who fatally shot Mike Ramos in 2020, wraps up Friday. Ramos' shooting, along with George Floyd's murder, sparked weeks of racial justice protests that year.
Police responded to a 911 call about drug activity at a Southeast Austin apartment complex in April 2020. After officers tried to detain Ramos in the parking lot, Taylor shot him three times, killing him as he fled in a vehicle.
Travis County District Attorney José Garza charged Taylor with murder in 2021.
Prosecutors presented their case to jurors this week. The defense is set to present arguments next week.
Here's a rundown of what's happened so far and what to expect next.
Events before the shooting
"In this case you have a chance that … many juries don’t have," prosecutor Dexter Gilford told jurors in opening arguments Monday, alluding to the rarity of police getting tried for on-duty shootings.
While Gilford condemned the police response to the call at the Rosemont at Oak Valley Apartments off Pleasant Valley Road, he admitted Ramos wasn't perfect.
Gilford said Ramos "burglarized cars" and "was alleged to have been involved with credit cards."
Then Gilford called Ramos' half-sister, Clavita McMillan-Brooks, to the stand. She said Ramos was a "jokester" and that their relationship was strained, largely because of his struggles with substance abuse. She'd talked to him about getting sober the last time she saw him.
"He wanted to," she said, "but he didn’t know how to."
Travis County Medical Examiner Dr. Keith Pinckard told jurors cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, bath salts and marijuana were all detected in his body during an autopsy.
During cross-examination, Taylor's attorneys suggested Ramos acted unpredictability as a result of his drug use and his previously documented bipolar disorder.
The gold Prius Ramos was driving had been reported to police a day before the shooting. That report did not suggest the suspect was violent.
The 911 call
Police on the lookout for the Prius got a 911 call on April 24 about the vehicle. The caller suggested two people were in the car using drugs and that a suspect had a gun.
On Tuesday, the prosecution called to the stand the woman who made that call, Meko Scott. Scott was visiting her son, who had been staying with his girlfriend at the apartment complex.
While she was being questioned by Gilford, Scott gave a tearful apology to Mike Ramos’ mother Brenda, after revealing she never actually saw Ramos with a gun; she'd just heard he had one.
"I told them that he had a gun. I assumed he had a gun. I never did see that man had a gun," she said. "I never saw a gun."
Scott then said she felt like she shot Ramos herself.
"That's how I feel," she said. "I feel like I shot him."
Taylor’s attorneys immediately seized upon that, suggesting she did the right thing by calling police because she thought Ramos had a gun.
A failure to communicate
Prosecutors have argued Ramos' death was caused by a systemic failure in planning, training and execution.
After the 911 call, seven officers gathered to determine how to respond. Police had been told to be on the lookout for Ramos' car. The alert didn't suggest he would be armed, though the 911 call suggested he was.
Officers said they feared Ramos had a gun, so they tried to use their vehicles to cordon him off in the parking lot, which ended in a dead end.
"Get your rifles ready," then-Officer Ben Hart, who coordinated the plan, was heard on bodycam footage saying to other officers.
Ultimately, officers ended up blocking off the area with their cruisers and pointed one so-called less-lethal shotgun, two pistols and four long rifles at Ramos.
Ramos was overwhelmed, didn't immediately respond to multiple officers' commands and was shot with a beanbag filled with lead pellets from a less-lethal shotgun by Mitchell Pieper, an officer who was new to patrols.
Prosecutors argued there wasn't clear communication with Ramos. One officer engaged with him directly, calling him by name and suggesting he calm down. Another, presumably Taylor, suggested he was about to get "impacted," meaning shot with Pieper's less-lethal shotgun. On the stand, Pieper couldn't immediately recall whose orders he was following when he fired the round and said he considered drawing his pistol during the ordeal.
Gilford suggested fear motivated Ramos, that he didn't know the shotgun wouldn't kill him and that he wasn't a threat to officers. He noted Ramos said, "Y'all are scaring the f- - - out of me, dog!" after he showed officers he didn't have a gun during a review of bodycam footage.
After Ramos was shot by Pieper with the beanbag round, he fell into his car, then drove toward a dead end, away from officers. Taylor shot him three times.
Vehicle as a weapon
Four officers who were on the scene all suggested they feared Ramos would use his vehicle as a weapon, but prosecutors chipped away at that argument during questioning.
The most notable line of questioning came from special prosecutor Gary Cobb. Cobb on Wednesday questioned Hart, the officer (now a sergeant) who led the planning on how to intercept Ramos.
Initially, Hart said he and other officers — including Taylor, who was standing next to him — were in danger of being hit by the Prius.
"There’s no way to exit that I was aware of down the other end, so he was going to have to ... go around us or go through us," Hart told Cobb. "I did not believe he could go around us."
After a tense line of questioning, Hart changed his testimony.
Cobb: [At this point], your life is in no danger whatsoever, is it?
Hart: At that point, no.
Cobb: No one's going to have to kill Michael Ramos in order to defend your life, will they?
Hart: I don't believe so.
Cobb: And you don't need to kill Michael Ramos in order to defend your own life, do you?
Cobb: And you don't need to kill Michael Ramos in order to defend anyone else's life, do you?
Hart: Not that I'm aware of ... at this point I didn't know.
Cobb: At this point the answer is no.
Officer Pieper, who shot Ramos with the less-lethal shotgun, and James Morgan, who was training Pieper, also testified officers weren't in the path of Ramos' car as he fled.
Prosecutors say they will continue their arguments through early next week, with two out-of-state expert witnesses coming on Monday and Tuesday. After that, the defense will have its chance to present evidence. It's likely responding officers will return to court to testify.
The trial is expected to continue at least through next week.