Source San Antonio Express-News
A jury in Travis County announced on Wednesday that it was unable to decide whether to convict or acquit Austin police officer Christopher Taylor of murder for the 2020 fatal shooting of Michael Ramos. That means the case — one of the few in the country in which a police officer has ever faced a murder charge for an on-duty incident — will likely be tried again at a later date.
The 12 jurors deliberated for more than 34 hours before deciding they could not come to a verdict "without violating our conscience and honest beliefs," they wrote in a note to the judge presiding over the trial. It's not clear when the next trial will occur, and it could take months.
Ramos' death on April 24, 2020, which occurred just a month before George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police, fueled protests against police brutality in Austin that summer which turned out to be some of the most contentious in the nation.
Police confronted Ramos that day because a 9-1-1 caller claimed he was doing drugs in a parked car at a Southeast Austin apartment complex, and that he had a gun. The caller would later admit on the witness stand that he was lying about the gun.
Multiple video angles show Ramos appearing to drive away from officers at the time he was shot. Prosecutors pointed to the video, and the fact that no other officers at the scene fired their weapons, as evidence that the shooting was not justified. Taylor's defense attorneys said he believed the car would drive toward officers and run them over, allowing him the justification of self-defense under Texas law.
The case is likely to inflame already-high tensions between Texas' Republican leaders and Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza, whose office has secured indictments of more than 20 of the city's officers for crimes related to alleged use of excessive force. Many of those indictments stem from injuries to protesters who were shot by police with "less-lethal" beanbag munitions in 2020.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has publicly discussed issuing pardons to people charged and convicted under Garza. After Garza's office won a murder conviction last spring of a man who fatally shot an armed Black Lives Matter protester in the summer of 2020, Abbott posted on social media that he was "working as swiftly as Texas law allows" to pardon the man. And last year, he said in a statement that the officers under indictment in Austin "should be praised … not prosecuted."
Abbott has not yet issued any such pardons. Daniel Perry, the man convicted of murder last spring, is serving a 20-year sentence while his appeal winds its way through the court system. As for the other cases Abbott referred to in his statement, most are still awaiting trial and two have been dismissed by Garza's office.
Texas' Republican-led Legislature this spring also passed a law making it easier for "rogue prosecutors" to be removed through a process initiated by a citizen's sworn affidavit. But no one has yet attempted to use it to remove Garza, though Austin's police union launched a web site seeking tips for such an effort when the law took effect in September.
Murder charges against police officers, especially for acts committed while they are on duty, are extremely rare. In 2018 a jury convicted Roy Oliver, an officer in a Dallas County suburb, of murder after he shot and killed an unarmed teenager fleeing from him in a car the year before. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder (a charge that doesn't exist in Texas law) for George Floyd's death.
Last year, a jury in Hunt County acquitted a police officer of murder following the shooting of an unarmed Black man in Wolfe City, a tiny town northeast of Dallas.
Taylor's trial lasted 12 days. During closing arguments, both the prosecutors and defense lawyers highlighted the high-profile nature of the trial during their closing arguments.
"Nobody is saying officers are above the law. But if you convict on this evidence ... you can reasonably expect that officers will hesitate in the future," said Doug O'Connell, one of Taylor's defense lawyers who also represents many other indicted Austin police officers.
Prosecutor Gary Cobb countered that the case represents the need for justice in a marginalized community that has long distrusted police. Ramos was Black and Hispanic, and the initial footage of the shooting that sparked community outrage was captured by a Black resident of the complex who testified at the trial.
"There is a general feeling in some communities that justice will not be served," Cobb told jurors. "And that is what we're asking for in this case. Justice for Michael Ramos."
Taylor's situation is particularly extraordinary because he is facing a second murder charge. Several months before the fatal shooting of Michael Ramos, he also was involved in the shooting death of Mauris DeSilva, a Sri Lankan man who was holding a knife while experiencing a mental health crisis. A grand jury indicted Taylor and another Austin police officer for DeSilva's murder in August 2021, and that case is awaiting trial.
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