Sunday, May 24, 2020

Manley exonerates Mike Ramos' shooter in report to Ken Paxton filled with false statements

The killing of Mike Ramos by the Austin PD has been an instructive moment. Chief Brian Manley's reaction to the shooting of yet another unarmed man tells us definitively that he has no intention of changing his stripes, and justifies the increasingly widespread calls for him and the APD leadership team to all lose their jobs.

If there was any doubt of this, the death-in-custody report Chief Manley filed with the Texas Attorney General demonstrates that he intends to continue time-worn patterns of racist policing from which Austin has suffered for many decades. The report essentially exonerates the shooter, Officer Christopher Taylor, making phony excuses to legally justify his actions.

Regular readers know Grits doesn't throw around the term "racist" lightly, but it's simply inconceivable that the methods and attitudes evinced in this report would be applied if the episode had involved a white person in the Zilker, Windsor, or Mt. Bonnell neighborhoods. 

Before getting into the details, if you haven't seen it, or need a refresher, watch the video. Ramos was standing beside his car with his hands up talking to the officers when a rookie three months out of the academy fired on him with a shotgun loaded with a bean bag round while bystanders screamed "don't shoot." Ramos got into his car and drove away from officers down a dead end to keep from being killed. It didn't work. Another officer, who just ten months before had killed a university professor suffering from a mental health crisis in another dubious shooting, shot Ramos multiple times with a rifle.

So how does Chief Manley describe the episode in the death in custody report?

Asked what were the reasons for the contact, Manley wrote "Alcohol/drug offense." No drugs or alcohol were found at the scene, so this is pure victim blaming which frankly is reprehensible. Whatever the 911 caller said, Ramos had committed no offense when officers surrounded him with guns drawn and began screaming at him. Why is the chief still pretending otherwise?

Another question asked, "At any time during the incident and/or entry into the law enforcement facility, did the decedent display or use a weapon?" Manley replied, "Unknown." Again, this is a flat-out lie. Manley admitted at a press conference that Ramos had no weapon, which is also quite clear from the bystander video.

Next, the form asked, "At any time during the incident and/or entry into the law enforcement facility did the decedent attempt to injure others?" Once again, Manley simply lied, declaring "Unknown." This is, in fact, known. Ramos attempted to injure no one, and was driving away from officers when he was shot. The only "unknown" here is what the hell the chief is thinking by answering these questions in such a disingenuous way.

Similarly, Manley declared it is "unknown" whether Ramos assaulted a police officer during this incident. From the video, clearly he didn't, and if he had, it would have been listed at the top of the report as the most serious charge against him.

Manley claimed Ramos "barricaded himself or initiated a standoff." This is, at best, a stretch. I suppose, since he ducked back into his car and tried to get away once police began firing at him, one could claim Ramos "barricaded" himself, even if it was in response to a deadly threat against his life. If someone fired a shotgun at you, who in their right mind would just stand there and wait for them to do it again?

Manley's officers were the ones who "initiated the standoff," surrounding the unarmed man with guns drawn and screaming at him from a distance while Ramos stood there with his hands up and showed them he had no weapon. As in the recent episode in Midland where officers stood 10 yards from a 21-year old boy laying on the ground surrendering himself, APD officers could have approached Ramos and ended the "standoff" any time they wanted. They were in complete control. But, as they were trained to do, Austin PD escalated violence instead, and in a totally unnecessary way.

Regrettably, Mr. Ramos didn't have a 90-year old grandmother immediately available to intervene and save his life, as happened in Midland.

The narrative description in the death-in-custody report makes clear that Ramos initially complied but, like the guy in Midland, feared approaching officers while they were pointing their weapons at him because he thought they'd shoot him. Let's face it: Given how many black folks get shot by police under dubious circumstances, these are reasonable concerns.

These men were in no-win situations. If Ramos stood still and officers opened fire, he is called "non-compliant." If he'd walked toward the officers and they shot him, this report would almost assuredly say he made a "furtive movement." Given the misinformation included in this death-in-custody report, there's no doubt in my mind that Chief Manley would have justified killing Mike Ramos either way. 

Officers must be trained to understand that many black people justifiably fear them. And not just fear of false arrest. Fear for their very lives, from the moment they encounter a police officer till well after the officers leave. These fears are reasonable, not irrational, and ignoring them makes worst-case scenarios like this one much more likely. Ramos and the guy in Midland both feared that, if they approached officers or did anything but stay still and surrender, they risked being shot. They were 100% correct. 

It's particularly telling that the cop who fired the bean-bag round at Ramos was a rookie just three months out of the academy, because it speaks directly to Austin PD's approach to training cadets. Readers may recall that ten former cadets have sued the city over training methods at the police academy which were demeaning to cadets and promoted violence. According to the cadets, instructors told them "they would 'punch you in the face' if you said you wanted to be an officer to help people," and "also told students that a suspect who resists arrest or who fights with an officer 'just earned a legal ass-whooping.'" Cadets complained that "instructors repeatedly degraded homeless people and prostitutes, referring to them as 'cockroaches' and encouraging cadets to 'find a transient' if they were bored and wanted an easy felony arrest."

Cadet training at Austin PD explicitly promotes unnecessary violence. According to the cadets suing the city, “An instructor told them they needed to achieve a 'winning warrior mentality' by picking out a person in their daily lives — preferably not an older woman or child — and visualizing themselves 'shooting that person in the face.'”

This is the training this rookie cop had undergone just months before he initiated the events that ended Mike Ramos' life. Honestly, this is why I think APD leadership must be held to account. They're the ones responsible for that training, the rookie cop did what he'd been taught to do.

Incidentally, as part of the City Council's demand for an audit of Austin PD training practices, a panel has been appointed to review all the videos used by the department. Unfortunately, APD is rushing the process. The panel has been asked to review 112 videos, in 13 marathon sessions, by July 1st, which some panelists have said is an unrealistic time frame and setting the group up to do an inadequate job.

To me, bystander video of the Ramos shooting and the episode in Midland would make excellent training videos on what NOT to do. These situations were mishandled from the beginning and demonstrate that many Texas police officers seemingly don't have a clue how reasonable black folks react in the 21st century when police officers threaten to kill them for no good reason. In both instances, the background commentary from average people watching should be required listening as part of the curriculum. The fears bystanders express in both are commonplace and reasonable, particularly in the black community. Someone who wants to do that job should be required to understand those perceptions.

After answering the specific questions in the death-in-custody report, APD included this narrative description of the incident. Reading it, it's clear to me this episode is something that could only ever occur in a poor, predominantly minority neighborhood. It's inconceivable that police would have approached white folks in a middle-class part of town in the manner described here:
On April 24th, 2020, at approximately 6:31 pm, Austin Police Communications received a 911 call indicating a male and female were sitting in a gold Toyota Prius at 2601 South Pleasant Valley Road. According to the caller, the subjects appeared to be using narcotics. As officers responded to the area, an update to the call indicated the male subject had a gun. Officers requested the assistance of Air 1 (helicopter) and K-9, but they were not immediately available. Before arriving at the scene, officers stopped briefly to discuss their response to the area and create a plan before attempting to approach the subjects in the vehicle. After formulating a course of action, officers approached the area in marked patrol units. Officers strategically parked their patrol vehicles, effectively blocking the exit and mitigating the risk of flight. Officers observed the Toyota Prius backed into a parking spot in the apartment complex parking lot near the one-way entrance/exit. Officers immediately commanded both subjects to show their hands as police communications identified the nature of the call as "gun urgent." Officers continued to give verbal commands as both the male and female exited the vehicle. Officers commanded the male subject to lift his shirt and turn around in a circle. The male subject initially complied with commands but eventually became non-compliant and verbally confrontational. The male subject began asking why officers had guns pointed at him and asked officers to put their weapons away. The male subject walked back toward the driver’s door of the Toyota Prius and remained non-compliant and verbally confrontational. The male refused verbal commands from officers to step forward and away from the driver's door. Due to the nature of the call and the 911 caller’s information, officers had reason to believe the Toyota Prius could contain a gun. Due to the male subject’s noncompliance and ability to possibly access a gun inside the vehicle or on his person, officers decided to deploy a less-lethal munition to gain compliance. The less-lethal munition struck the front of the male subject on the left side of his body but did not prove to be effective as the male subject quickly entered the driver's door of the Toyota Prius. The male subject closed the driver door and started the vehicle. Officers commanded the driver to turn off the vehicle but he did not comply. Approximately nine seconds later, the male subject drove forward out of the parking spot. Fearing the male subject intended to use the Toyota Prius as a deadly weapon, one patrol officer fired his patrol rifle,  striking the male driver. The Toyota Prius collided with another parked vehicle in the parking lot and came to a stop. Officers approached the driver, extracted him from the Toyota Prius, and began to apply medical aid. Officers summoned EMS to the scene. EMS responded and transported the male subject to a local hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 7:26 pm.
Notably, Manley claimed that Christopher Taylor feared that Ramos "intended to use the Toyota Prius as a deadly weapon." If true, that would be a legal justification for the shooting, which is why I said the report "exonerated" the shooter. But this is another bald-faced lie. Ramos was driving away from officers down a short dead end, not toward them. From the video and even cursory observation of the scene, that's simply an unreasonable inference. It's an excuse being offered to legally justify the shooting post hoc, not a reasonable interpretation of what the officer was thinking in the moment.

Let's also ask ourselves if police would have called for dogs and helicopters if they got the same call in West Austin? I've never heard of that happening in predominantly white neighborhoods; this is something they do to black people.

Clearly, even from APD's own, biased narrative, Ramos complied with officers' commands so far as they were reasonable. He kept his hands up until they began shooting at him, and raised his shirt and turned around when he was told to do so. But he didn't want to move toward officers while they were pointing their weapons at him because he's a black man in Texas and feared he would be shot. He wanted them to deescalate the situation before he abandoned his hands-up-I-surrender position, and Grits doesn't blame him one bit. Ramos had already demonstrated he wasn't a threat. There was simply no reason for officers to keep threatening to shoot him, except that that's what they're trained to do.

The death in custody report reveals more about Chief Manley than it does the details of the shooting. It shows us Manley believes what happened was what should have happened. And it's an indication he has no intention of changing how Austin police handle such situations; to him, this was all by the book. Finally, it demonstrates Chief Manley will lie, obfuscate, and mislead in order to justify the worst outcomes.

The report also shows why everyone should be careful when interpreting data points from these death-in-custody reports. This is far from the first one I've seen that flat-out misrepresents facts in order to justify police officers killing someone.

UPDATE (5/29): Chief Manley is telling people he didn't see this document before it was filed, despite his being one of two names listed as its source. If true, he should immediately issue an amended version correcting all the smears and falsehoods. And it speaks to his management priorities that he considered his department's official, public portrayal of the details of the Ramos shooting unworthy of his interest. 


Gunny Thompson said...

From Unfiltered Minds of Independent Thinkers of the 3rd Grade Dropout Section:

Grits, thanks again for your no-holds barred reporting. Manley's report will now go down to the Texas AG's office, never to be seen again, which given reason to demand that Internal Affairs are without authority to investigate matters beyond those of civil service or administrative matters. The case has now been corrupted and beyond correction by state officials. Which gives rise to my opinion that all matters prohibited for review by state officials,must be referred to the Justice Department.

Deb said...

quoted you in my latest meme

Sean said...

Thanks for your coverage of this Grits.