Garza’s predecessor, Margaret Moore, deferred the decision to present the Ramos and Ambler cases to a grand jury until Garza, for whom criminal justice reform was a key election issue, took office.
“Our community has been clear that when law enforcement officers use deadly force, prosecutors must investigate the case quickly and with transparency, to ensure that no one is above the law,” Garza said in a news release.
Ramos, a 42-year-old Black and Latino man, was shot and killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor in Southeast Austin on April 24, 2020. Ramos' death, along with other events across the nation, contributed to a push for police reform in Austin.
The shooting happened after police received a 911 call reporting a man allegedly smoking “crack and crystal meth” in a parked car and that the man was in possession of a gun.
Police footage from a dashboard camera and Taylor’s body camera showed Ramos exiting his car with hands up upon the officers’ arrival. When police asked him to turn around, Ramos asked for an explanation, insisting that he did not have a gun. That was when Officer Mitchell Pieper shot a less-lethal bullet at Ramos, who fell back into his car and attempted to drive away. Officer Taylor then fired three shots into the car, killing Ramos.
APD Chief Brian Manley said May 11 that a search turned up no firearm in Ramos’ vehicle, contrary to the 911 caller’s claim. Footage from a dashboard camera and Taylor’s body camera confirmed that Ramos was unarmed.
The grand jury will consider indictments against Taylor and Pieper.
A number of grassroots criminal reform organizations called for the removal of Manley and other officials following Ramos’ death, including the Austin Justice Coalition, Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance. Following nationwide protests related to the killing of George Floyd and, locally, Ramos, Austin City Council voted to cut the police budget by $150 million for fiscal year 2020-21 and adopted an agenda to “reimagine” public safety in the city.
Ambler, also a Black man, died in North Austin after WCSO deputies had chased him by car from their jurisdiction after Ambler refused to dim his SUV lights to oncoming traffic, according to the sheriff’s office. Ambler exited his vehicle after crashing into a tree, and deputies proceeded to tase him several times after asking him to “get down.” He became unresponsive and died. His death was ruled a “justifiable homicide,” according to a report filed with the Texas attorney general’s office. Reports from the Austin-American Statesman and KVUE revealed that informed deputies he had a heart condition before they tased him.
Former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody has been indicted in Williamson County on evidence tampering charges associated with Ambler’s death. The Travis County Grand Jury will also consider indicting Chody and his counsel, Jason Nassour. They will likewise consider the case against deputies Michael Nissen, James Johnson, Zachary Camden and Patrick Nelson, who were also allegedly involved in the altercation with Ambler.
Ramos’ and Ambler’s are not the only fatal police shooting cases heading for a grand jury this term; Garza also announced six other cases of “officer-involved shootings or death in the custody of a law enforcement officer" that will be presented to a grand jury, the oldest of which dates back to March 2018. Two cases are shootings that occurred since the start of 2021, including the fatal shooting of Alexander Gonzales in Austin.
“It is a tragedy for our community, and I would like to express my sympathies to the family of Mr. Gonzales and to everyone who has been affected,” Garza said.
Christopher Neely and Ali Linan contributed to this report.