Michael Ramos, the 42-year-old man who was fatally shot by Austin police officers April 24, was unarmed, Police Chief Brian Manley said, following a search of Ramos’ vehicle and the scene. The finding conflicts with the information given to police by the 911 call that sent officers to the scene.
“We didn’t locate a firearm inside the vehicle, nor did we locate a firearm in the area around the vehicle,” Manley said at May 11 press conference.
Police were sent to a Southeast Austin apartment complex April 24 after a 911 caller reported people smoking “crack and crystal meth” inside a parked car and that the male in the driver’s seat was holding a firearm. Less than an hour later, Manley said that man, identified as Ramos, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital due to gunshot wounds inflicted by Austin police officers.
Civilian-recorded footage of the incident shows Ramos with his hands up and appearing unarmed when rookie Officer Mitchell Pieper fired the initial shot with what Manley called a “less lethal” bean bag shotgun. A separate civilian recording shows Ramos, after the initial shot, falling back into his car, closing the car door and attempting to drive off. Three more shots are heard. Manley said five-year veteran Officer Christopher Taylor fired a rifle.
An investigation of the incident is still underway with the help of the Texas Rangers, Travis County District Attorney's Office and the Office of Police Oversight. Manley said the department will release body cam footage at the “earliest opportunity” but that doing so now would hurt the “integrity of this ongoing investigation.”
An hour before the press conference, Manley told the City Council’s Judicial Committee that he recently approved a new body cam footage release policy. Manley described the highlights of the policy, which, at the time, council members said they had not seen, that included a commitment to releasing body cam footage within 60 days of the incident.
Manley said the new policy, based off the Los Angeles Police Department’s procedures, aims to get the footage out to the public “quickly” to provide education on the incident. However, Manley said there were a few reasons the body cam footage could be withheld, including a court order withholding the footage from the public.
During the May 11 press conference, Manley said another reason the body cam footage remains unreleased was to “respect” a motion that has been filed in the courts to withhold its release. Requests to the Austin Police Department for more information on who filed the order were not answered by press time. Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore has supported release of the footage.
In the days immediately following the incident, local criminal justice reform organizations Austin Justice Coalition, Grassroots Leadership, Texas Harm Reduction Alliance and Just Liberty called for the removal of Manley, Assistant Chief Troy Gay and Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano, who oversees public safety. Chas Moore, the executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition, said it marked the first time his organization called for the ousting of Manley.
The killing of Ramos comes as the department has faced mounting questions over the training received by officers in the police academy. District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents Central East and East Austin, told Manley on May 11 she was receiving “very specific questions” from constituents about why the officer fired the nonlethal rounds at Ramos. Harper-Madison said the community and the police department need to have a “comprehensive conversation” around de-escalation.
Earlier this month, City Manager Spencer Cronk announced the police cadet class scheduled to begin in June would be delayed until at least July as training materials are updated. Late last year, City Council mandated the June cadet class be suspended to implement changes at the police academy following a stream of charges against the department, from the use of racial and homophobic slurs among the department’s highest ranks to what former cadets described as a “warrior mentality” training philosophy at the academy.
Lisa Tatum, an independent investigator hired by the city to look into the allegations of racial and homophobic slurs among the department’s leadership, released her findings in late April. She said although she could not corroborate the specific claims, she found that “racist and sexist name calling and use of derogatory terms associated with race and sex persists” in the department.
Victim in fatal officer-involved shooting was unarmed, Austin police say as questions mount
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Michael Ramos was unarmed when police fatally shot him during an April 24 incident. (Courtesy Austin Police Department Periscope)