Austin (KXAN) — From her South Austin home, Brenda Ramos notes it has been more than a month since her son, 42-year-old Michael Ramos, was shot and killed by an Austin police officer.
She was born and raised in Austin as was Michael, her only son.
Brenda thumbs through an envelope of photographs: Michael’s first bike, Michael’s first communion, Michael’s graduation from Bowie High School.
She said her son worked in lawn care and was a die-hard Longhorns fan. Michael was always checking on her and helping her around the house, she recalled.
“We were real close,” Brenda said. “That’s my baby. Sometimes I still don’t believe it. Sometimes I catch myself looking out the window or out the door. I still think he’s coming.”
The officer who fired his rifle at Michael along with the officer who fired a less-lethal bean bag round earlier have both been placed on paid administrative leave until an Austin Police Department Special Investigations Unit independently reviews the incident with assistance from the in Texas Rangers.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore announced last week that despite the limitations the pandemic has placed on legal proceedings, she intends to bring Ramos’ case before a grand jury. Moore said Thursday that her hope is to make that grand jury happen this summer.
As for Brenda, she wants more answers from Austin Police about what happened leading up to her son’s death as well as stricter, quicker penalties in the future for officers across the state who are involved with incidents that lead to a death.
On the night of April 24, Michael’s attorney Rebecca Webber said Michael was at a friend’s apartment on 2600 S. Pleasant Valley Road where they would often go to hang out in the parking lot. Brenda said her understanding was that Michael and his girlfriend were about to go to get a snack before the police arrived.
Austin Police said that officers got a 9-1-1 call to that address and the caller reported that a couple was using drugs in their car in a parking lot at that apartment complex and that the man in the car was waving a gun in the air.
APD also said they believed, based on the vehicle description, that car may have been involved in a crime the day before.
Officers approached the car together and asked Ramos to step outside of the car.
According to APD’s account, while Michael Ramos initially got out of the car as he was asked to do, he yelled back at the officers and did not continue to comply with the officers’ commands.
Witness video from the scene shows Ramos standing outside of the car with his hands up while an officer is facing him, appearing to hold a weapon. A bang goes off and Ramos gets back in the car and closes the driver side door.
Austin police said that Officer Mitchell Pieper, who graduated out of the last cadet class and had been with the department for three months in a training phase, fired a bean bag round at Ramos which appeared not to impact Ramos.
A custodial death report filed by Austin Police to the Office of Texas Attorney General states that Ramos started the vehicle after getting inside the car and that officers commanded him to turn off the vehicle but he did not.
Within nine seconds, the Austin Police report to the state says, Michael Ramos drove forward out of the parking spot.
The report said that Officer Christopher Taylor who had been with the department for five years, feared that Ramos would use the car as a deadly weapon and fired his patrol rifle, striking Ramos. Ramos’ car collided with a parked car and came to a stop, the report said, and Ramos was declared dead less than an hour after the initial call.
In the video, three shots can be heard when Michael drives the car out of the parking spot, but his family says it is still unclear how many of those hit his head.
In May, Austin police confirmed that no firearm was located either in Ramos’ vehicle or in the area where the incident happened.
Brenda Ramos maintains that her son “never had a gun, never.”
Brenda, who has walked the area where her son was shot and found evidence markers still on the pavement, believes that with the dead-end and a dumpster nearby that there would have been nowhere else for her son to flee to while driving the car.
She believes officers could have responded differently, saying, “I probably would have had my son here today if they’d have went by it the right way, not the wrong way.”
“I want justice for my son”
Brenda expressed concern that her son had been shot from too close of range, based on the damage he sustained to his face and his head.
Michael’s attorney, Rebecca Webber, who also serves as an Austin Public Safety Commissioner, explained that when she reached out to the Austin Police detective to get some of the personal items in the car back, the detective “strongly discouraged” asking for any of the personal effects back because they were “covered in gore.”
Brenda wanted to see her son’s body to wish him goodbye and was advised by the funeral director that she wouldn’t want to view Michael because of the damage to his head. Brenda explained that Michael’s head was so impacted that the funeral home had to perform “surgery” on him so that he could be viewable to his family.
Brenda worked in home-health and in the aviation industry, but now she wants to learn about policy: she’s looking to get a new law passed in Michael’s name.
The details are not fully fleshed out yet, but she would like to see more immediate consequences when officers’ actions result in the death of someone who is unarmed.
She also wants more answers and quicker response for the loved ones of those killed in officer-involved-incidents — and she doesn’t want officers to be placed on paid administrative leave while under investigation for incidents that resulted in a death.
She noted that Officer Taylor was also involved in a deadly shooting in downtown Austin in July 2019,
- Previous Coverage: Officers involved in deadly southeast Austin shooting identified; investigation underway
“I can’t see how the chief would let him still after that still be working?” Brenda said.
A larger movement
Brenda said she doesn’t want anyone else to have to go through the pain and uncertainty that she has, she is hopeful that current calls for police reform across the country will generate momentum for her efforts to make change.
She relates to concerns being shared at rallies nationwide over the way that people of color are treated by law enforcement. Her son is half Black, half Hispanic, she explained, and she believes that matters in his story.
“For me that matters too, all Blacks, Hispanics, they matter,” she said.
“This has been happening way too long and its never gonna stop,” she said. “Now everybody is pulling together, this is the time to do it, in the right way.”
At the protests in Austin, many demonstrators are elevating Michael Ramos’ name and story.
One group in Austin organizing demonstrations calls itself the ‘Mike Ramos Brigade.’ Brenda made it clear that she does not know who is involved with that group and they do not speak for her.
She said she’s seen videos that concern her which reportedly show things the group has done.
“I did text back and said ‘keep my son out of your mess, I was very angry’ I never heard back,” she said referring to the group.
In particular, Brenda does not want to see any violence or damage to businesses carried out in her son’s name.
“I feel disrespected when I see negativity, it makes me angry,” she aid.
However, Brenda said she supports the protests in Austin that are peaceful and calling for justice.
“As much grief as I’m going through, it makes me feel a little lifted,” she said of seeing the movements in Austin and around the country demanding change.
“It makes me feel like they’re doing something,” she said, seeing the protests in motion calling for police reform. “Like I said, I want justice for my son, I pray for people that are helping my son every day.”
“There’s nothing that can bring my son back,” she added through tears. “They took something from me that was so precious to me. It just hurts, my heart, and I just pray to God to give me the strength to carry on.”
The next steps
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore explained that no date has been set for the grand jury for Michael Ramos’ case, but she is hoping to have it happen sometime this summer.
The county has not been impaneling grand juries since March due to the pandemic.
Moore said that grand juries have to be in person, but her office is looking into virtually impaneling the grand jury for this case so that sixty people are not brought in one room. She said Michael Ramos’ case will be the first in Travis County to have a grand jury impaneled during the pandemic.
The national and local momentum helped prompt Moore to announce last week that Ramos’ case would be brought to a grand jury.
“I knew what our decision was but I thought it was important to announce it so the community would know,” she said.
Moore added that in Texas, cases cannot be prosecuted until they have been taken to a grand jury for an indictment fist.
- Previous Coverage: Videos of Austin police incidents may soon be more readily released to the public
An Austin Police Department spokesperson explained that the department is working to release body camera and dash-camera video from the scene of this incident as well.
The video will be woven together with context information and narration, similar to how the Los Angeles Police Department has done with their officer involved incidents.
The creation of these videos is a brand new practice for Austin Police and Michael Ramos’ case will be the first case a video is created for under the new policy. The department plans to release videos of “critical incidents” such as officer-involved shootings in this method going forward. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley has the authority to decide whether to release the video.
As of Thursday Austin Police tells KXAN that both Officer Taylor and Officer Pieper are both still on administrative leave and the investigation into this incident is ongoing.