AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin officer involved in a fatal shooting in late April has withdrawn his motion to prevent the release of video evidence he said would harm his right to a fair trial.
Earlier this month, APD Officer Christopher Taylor – who is currently the subject of a criminal investigation related to the shooting – requested the court prohibit APD, the Travis County District Attorney's Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety from releasing evidence to the public.
On Wednesday, Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell, attorneys for Taylor, said they have withdrawn the motion to prohibit public release of the footage.
“Nevertheless, we continue to disagree with Chief [Brian] Manley’s decision to release anything while the investigation is ongoing and before a grand jury has had an opportunity to review the facts in their entirety,” the attorneys said.
The attorneys said while they believe transparency is important, “it must occur at the correct time.”
“Chief Manley’s premature and selective release of only limited footage, without releasing the accompanying full context of what occurred and what was known to officers before the incident, is not transparency,” they said. “It is the release of one or two items of evidence while continuing to keep volumes of other evidence hidden from public view. This selective approach does nothing to promote public confidence in the ongoing investigation.”
In response, the Austin Police Department said in statement, "The Austin Police Department (APD) is aware of the withdrawn motion regarding the release of video from the April 24, 2020, Officer Involved Shooting. APD remains committed to building trust within our community, and as such, we are moving forward with plans to release the video by following APD Policy 117 Critical Incident-Public Release."
On the evening of Friday, April 24, a 911 call came in reporting two people doing drugs in a vehicle in a parking lot near East Oltorf Street and South Pleasant Valley Road in southeast Austin. The call stated that one man was reportedly holding a gun. Police believed the vehicle could have been involved in a burglary and evading police the day before, which APD Chief Brian Manley later confirmed.
Officers arrived on the scene and when they approached the suspect, 42-year-old Michael Brent Ramos, police said he got out of the car but did not comply with officers' commands. APD Officer Mitchell Pieper fired from a less-lethal "bean bag" shotgun and Taylor then fired the fatal shot from his rifle. Ramos was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
On Monday, May 13, Manley confirmed detectives did not find a firearm in the car.
On Monday, April 27, Manley stated that video from the responding officers' body-worn cameras would be released at the earliest opportunity once doing so would not impact the integrity of the investigation. Travis County DA Margaret Moore elaborated, saying, "I will approve Chief Manley’s release of body camera videos collected by police officers, as soon as is practicable. In this instance, I do not see how the release of these videos would compromise the investigation or any subsequent prosecution."
Manley said that the investigation into this incident is still active and ongoing. He said 45 interviews have been conducted of witness officers, officers involved with the incident, civilians and other first responders who were on the scene. He also said there are still witnesses APD needs to take statements from, so at this time, no body camera video or other video of the incident will be released.
Legal experts watching this investigation told KVUE that whether Ramos was armed at the moment of the shooting is not expected to be a central part of the case. Instead, the real issue is likely to be whether Officer Christopher Taylor – who fired the fatal shot – reasonably believed that Ramos' car was being used as a deadly weapon as he fired.
“While we question whether transparency is the true motive behind this highly unusual break from normal investigative protocol, we remain confident Officer Taylor’s actions were appropriate, lawful and consistent with his training,” Taylor’s attorneys said. “We also remain confident all relevant fact-finding bodies will ultimately agree.”
APD has been criticized after videos of the shooting circulated online. Several city council members, as well as Mayor Steve Adler, have expressed concern over the shooting and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Austin has called for Manley's resignation. The Austin Justice Coalition is calling for Manley, Austin Police Chief of Staff Troy Gay and Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano to be fired.
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