On the third day of testimony in the murder trial against Christopher Taylor, jurors heard from Austin police officers who responded alongside Taylor to the 911 call that led to Michael Ramos’ death.
In a pivotal moment, one of the officers present on the scene — who had initially claimed otherwise — eventually admitted that he did not think he was in immediate danger when Ramos’ vehicle moved forward.
There were seven other officers present when Taylor shot and killed Ramos in April 2020. Their perspectives might be crucial in determining whether Taylor was justified in taking deadly action.
In his opening statement on Monday, Dexter Gilford, head of the Travis County district attorney’s Civil Rights Unit, emphasized that Taylor was the only officer who shot at Ramos’ moving vehicle. Gilford argued that in doing so, Taylor was in violation of his training and “generally accepted police practices.”
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All seven officers who responded alongside Taylor have been subpoenaed and most, if not all, are expected to testify.
So far, the jury has heard from officers Darrell Cantu-Harkless, Benjamin Hart and James Morgan. Prosecutors played footage from Cantu-Harkless’, Hart’s, and Morgan’s body-worn cameras, from the time officers first responded to the call to after shots had been fired.
Prosecutors asked Cantu-Harkless and Hart about their thought process and decision-making at crucial points during the confrontation with Ramos. During their questioning, prosecutors seemed particularly interested in the reactions that Cantu-Harkless and Hart had to the movement of Ramos’ vehicle.
Morgan had not finished testifying when the court session ended Wednesday. He is expected to continue Thursday.
Cantu-Harkless was the officer closest to Ramos’ vehicle. During questioning, Gilford pointed out that after Ramos got into his vehicle, Cantu-Harkless holstered his weapon and entered his patrol vehicle. In the body-worn camera footage, he can be seen putting his car into “drive.”
Gary Cobb, who was hired by the district attorney’s office as a special prosecutor, questioned Hart in a prolonged exchange that grew tense.
Hart led the development of the plan that the officers made before approaching Ramos, and he was next to Taylor when shots were fired.
Cobb asked Hart if he felt that there was an “immediate danger” to his life when Ramos drove forward. Hart initially said yes. He also said that he thought the vehicle was coming toward him.
Cobb continued pressing Hart on the matter, occasionally interrupted when defense attorneys raised objections about the nature of his questioning. Prosecutors played footage from the body-worn camera of Valerie Tavarez, another officer on the scene, and paused it at the moment Ramos’ vehicle began moving.
Cobb asked Hart, “Your life is in no danger whatsoever, is it?”
“No,” Hart said.
“No one is going to have to kill Michael Ramos to defend your life, will they?” Cobb asked.
“I don’t believe so,” Hart said.
“You don’t need to kill Michael Ramos to defend your own life, do you?”
“And you don’t need to kill Michael Ramos in order to defend anyone else’s life, do you?” Cobb asked.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Hart said.
Finally, Cobb asked Hart if he felt that his decision not to shoot Ramos was “reasonable.” Hart agreed.
Throughout the trial, there have been members of law enforcement — in plainclothes — present in the courtroom. Prior to the trial, the president of the Austin Police Association, Thomas Villarreal, sent an email to members asking them to support Taylor by coming to court.
“For years, we have talked about being our brother’s keeper. Over the coming weeks, we need to live by these words and stand shoulder to shoulder in support of Chris and his family,” Villarreal wrote.
In a text to the American-Statesman, Villarreal confirmed that an email had been sent and said, “We continue to stand by Officer Taylor.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, jurors also heard from Ramos’ girlfriend, Rebeca Garcia. She was in the vehicle with Ramos when police arrived but remained outside when Ramos attempted to drive away. Garcia described her fear when facing the police.
“We didn’t know which way to go or who to listen to because if we made a wrong step, we could have been shot,” Garcia said.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin police officers give revealing testimony in Taylor’s murder trial