Austin Officer-Involved Shooting Case Headed To Grand Jury

AUSTIN, TX — The Travis County district attorney announced late Friday she would present the case centered on a recent officer-involved shooting in Austin to a special grand jury.

“I reviewed the case today with my civil rights director, and we believe the investigation has progressed to the point that we can properly make this announcement," Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said in a prepared statement.

On April 24, 42-year-old Michael Ramos was shot to death during a confrontation with Austin police officers at a Southeast Austin apartment complex. A caller had contacted police to report Ramos ingesting drugs with a woman inside a vehicle, claiming the man was brandishing a gun.

Cell phone video shared with Patch shows Ramos raising his arms to reveal his waistband to demonstrate to police he was unarmed before one of the officers before one policeman fired a beanbag projectile at him. Recoiling in pain, Ramos is seen slumping into his car before driving off — prompting another officer to fire his weapon, which caused Ramos to crash the vehicle.

Previous coverage:

Man Dies In South Austin Officer-Involved ShootingCops In Fatal South Austin Shooting IdentifiedNo Gun Found On Suspect Killed By Austin PoliceAustin Police Vow To Release Officer-Involved Shooting Video

Ramos subsequently found dead in his car, while his female companion was detained. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley at the time said a search warrant would be obtained to search the vehicle in search of a gun, only to announce 18 days later that no firearm was found either in the car or in the vicinity of the incident.

During the confrontation residents of the apartment complex can be heard pleading with police not to shoot Ramos, whose death prompted community protest. Cell phone video taken by bystanders was widely circulated on social media, while Manley has promised to release body cam video of the incident — although that has yet to occur.

The officers involved subsequently were identified as Mitchel Pieper, who was commissioned in January, and Christopher Taylor, who has been with the force since December 2014. Manley said Pieper is the officer who fired the beanbag projectile at Ramos, and Taylor as the one who fired his rifle as Ramos drove away from the scene.

In her emailed advisory, Moore said the Austin Police Department and the Texas Rangers have been investigating the Ramos case. She added the date for the case to be presented to the special grand jury is as yet undetermined as the empaneling of grand juries in Travis County was suspended in March pursuant to COVID-19 orders. “We will present this case as soon as is practicable given the COVID-related constraints," Moore said.

The district attorney's decision to have a grand jury empaneled comes at a time of heightened racial tension following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a case that has galvanized protests across the country — including in Austin, where a downtown rally is planned on Saturday. Floyd died while face down on the pavement after an officer placed a knee on his neck for several minutes.

Organizers of the local protest affixed signs across the city on Friday, including the one below spotted near the University of Texas at Austin campus referencing both Ramos and Floyd.

Photo by Tony Cantú/Patch staff

It's unclear if the current tension over perceived police brutality played a role in Moore's decision to have a grand jury empaneled to hear the Ramos case. However, it is something of a departure for the district attorney who has often declined to pursue charges against officers involved in shootings in the recent past.

On May 27, Moore announced her office had concluded its review of the Sunset Valley Police Department investigation into an officer-involved shooting on July 29, 2018. The incident involved suspect Marc Antonie Carrillo — who survived the shooting — and Sunset Valley Police Department Officer Oscar Lopez, who was found to have been justified in applying deadly force. The incident dates to July 29, 2018, shortly before 4 a.m., when Sunset Valley police received a report of an alarm at the Zale's Outlet Jewelry Store located at 5601 Brodie Lane in Sunset Valley, Texas.

Upon arrival, Officer Lopez observed a white four-door sedan parked directly in front of the business and a man, later identified as Carrillo, exiting the store. Lopez drew his service weapon while issuing commands to show hands which the suspect is said to have refused, according to a summation by the DA's office. The officer struggled with Carrillo as he attempted to drive off in his vehicle "...and felt he was in danger of being ejected from the car or being run over," according to the DA's advisory. "Fearing for his life, Officer Lopez fired one shot from his gun, striking Carrillo in the right arm," before the man fled, as outlined in the advisory.

On Feb. 4, 2019, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office announced it had concluded its review of the Austin Police Department’s investigation into a shooting on Oct. 5, 2018, involving Mark Herrera, "...and determined that this office declines to prosecute officers Ryan Mihalik and Erin Littig for their use of force during this incident," an advisory read. "In accordance with the office’s policies, District Attorney Margaret Moore will not present this case to a grand jury for possible indictment," the advisory read.

Herrera was charged with making a terroristic threat in two different cases that are pending in misdemeanor and felony court. The shooting occurred along the 6800 block of Shadywood Drive, near Bedicheck Middle School on Thelma Drive, according to reports at the time. Police initially responded to the 7:37 p.m. call as an assist to fire crews headed to put out a reported grass fire. But as police later learned, the same suspect found to have started the small fire had been wandering through the neighborhood allegedly pointing a gun to himself and bystanders before being shot when police said he pointed the firearm at them. At the time of the incident, Herrera became the ninth civilian to be shot by Austin police.

Other recent examples of Moore declining to pursue charges against officers involved in shootings include:

This article originally appeared on the Austin Patch