Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Monday, April 27, 2020 by Marisa Charpentier

Officer-involved shooting in Southeast Austin spurs investigation and protests

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office and Austin’s Office of Police Oversight are investigating an officer-involved shooting that took place Friday night in Southeast Austin. Local organizations have deemed the shooting, which resulted in the death of a 42-year-old man, unjustified, and members of the community protested the incident on Saturday.

After receiving a 911 call alleging people might be doing drugs in a parking lot and a man was reportedly holding a gun, officers arrived at an apartment complex at 2601 South Pleasant Valley Road on Friday evening, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said in a press conference. Based on a description of the individuals’ vehicle, he said, police had reason to believe the same car was involved in an incident the day before in which the driver had evaded officers.

When police arrived, the man got out of the vehicle and put his hands in the air. However, Manley said the individual was not complying with officers’ commands. One officer fired a nonlethal bean bag round at him, a small fabric pillow filled with lead pellets. The man then returned to his vehicle and began driving away. Another officer then shot his rifle at the vehicle, which crashed into a parked car. The man was taken to the hospital, where he died.

Though police did not identify the man, community groups have identified him as Michael Ramos.

The Austin Justice Coalition held a virtual press conference Saturday to address the incident. Members called the shooting senseless, arguing that Ramos drove away because he was trying to escape harm.

Chas Moore, the coalition’s executive director and founder, said the shooting could have been avoided. He said people reported to the coalition that Ramos was black and Hispanic.

“In spite of a pandemic that is pausing the entire world, racism and police brutality continue to persist,” he said.

Members of the community protested Saturday saying the incident was unjust.

The East Austin chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens also condemned the shooting and is calling for Manley’s resignation.

In a video update Saturday evening, Manley said APD is working with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and the Office of Police Oversight on investigations into the incident. He indicated investigators are using videos of the incident from the officers’ body cameras and police vehicles, as well as those posted on social media. He urged bystanders with video of the incident to share it with police.

“It is important that anyone else that we have not yet had the opportunity to speak with or anyone who has video of the incident, please come forward,” Manley said. “Please give us your account or give us the information you have so that we can conduct a thorough investigation.”

Manley said the department is working on getting a search warrant for the man’s vehicle to determine whether there was a gun inside. The woman who was in the car with him has been detained as the incident is being investigated, Manley said Friday. The officer who shot the nonlethal weapon had been on the job for three months, he said, and the officer who shot the lethal weapon had been on the job for five years.

Earlier this month, a report was released containing results of an investigation about allegations of racism and homophobia against two assistant police chiefs. Investigators were largely unable to corroborate the accusations, but did say anecdotes they heard during the investigation raised concerns about racist and sexist behavior within APD.

Several Austin City Council members took to Twitter to share how they felt about Friday’s officer-involved shooting. Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, commented Saturday. “Like many others, I’ve seen disturbing video of this fatal encounter,” she wrote. “At a time when trust between APD and the community is at rock-bottom, we need a fully transparent and expedient investigation that pulls no punches in the pursuit of accountability. Justice is essential, pandemic or not, and I will continue to monitor this developing situation.”

Greg Casar, who represents District 4, wrote that Michael Ramos should be alive.

“APD has de-escalation rules,” he wrote. “It has training. But those things don’t seem to be enough.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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