Texas police officer charged with murder in shooting that sparked protests

An Austin police officer was booked on a murder charge Thursday morning in connection with a deadly shooting that led to protests last year in Texas’ capital city.

Officer Christopher Taylor was taken into custody after a grand jury indicted him in the April 24 shooting death of Michael Ramos, a spokesperson for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office said. He was released just before 12:40 a.m. Thursday on $100,000 bond, according to the sheriff’s office.

It is the first known murder indictment for an Austin police officer in a use of force incident, the county’s top prosecutor said.

Taylor is accused of killing Ramos after officers responded to a 911 call about a person possibly involved in a drug deal. The caller noted the person had a gun, NBC affiliate KXAN reported.

Witness video from the shooting shows Ramos get out of the vehicle, put his hands in the air and ask officers to put their guns down when they command him to walk toward them, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

He got back in the vehicle when Officer Mitchell Pieper fired a round from a beanbag gun at him, police Chief Brian Manley told the newspaper shortly after the shooting. According to police, Ramos closed the car door and started to pull out of the parking lot when Taylor fired his rifle.

The car crashed into a parked vehicle, and Ramos was taken to a hospital, where he died, Manley said. He was 42 years old.

No weapon was found, according to investigators.

Over the summer, police released their own video, which shows Taylor firing at the moving vehicle. At the time, tensions were at a boiling point nationwide following incidents involving police and Black men that were also captured on video. Ramos is Black and Hispanic.

Protesters in Austin marched in his name and called for charges against Taylor, who has been on administrative leave since the shooting. Brenda Ramos, the mother of the victim, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Austin and Taylor, alleging that Ramos was shot without justification. She could not be reached for comment.

Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza said during a virtual press conference Thursday that Taylor’s indictment was a “significant step toward justice for the Ramos family and our community.”

“My heart continues to break for the Ramos family and we still have much work ahead of us, but we know that holding law enforcement accountable when they break the law is critical to restoring the trust of our community and to ensuring its safety.”

In a statement Thursday to NBC News, Taylor’s attorneys said they were “disappointed but sadly not surprised” by their client’s indictment.

“As early as July of last year, then-DA candidate Jose Garza had made up his mind that Officer Taylor committed a crime and went so far as to offer an implied promise to indict him several months before being elected District Attorney or having access to any case evidence,” Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell said in the statement. “… We would remind Mr. Garza that his sworn duty is not to be an advocate for one party months before knowing the facts. It is to see that justice is done.”

“Today’s indictment is not justice; it is the fulfillment of a campaign talking point and yet more evidence of antipolice bias. We look forward to presenting the facts of this case, in their entirety, to a panel of citizens not behind closed doors and not under his exclusive control.”