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A special grand jury will be convened to investigate whether Austin police officer Christopher Taylor was justified in the April 24 shooting death of Michael Ramos, but it's not clear when. Lockdown orders have barred jury selection during the pandemic, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said Monday.
Moore's office announced Friday that prosecutors would be convening a special grand jury to decide whether to indict Taylor, who is currently on administrative leave. The news came just before weekend protests over police brutality lit up metro areas across the nation, including Austin.
Because the DA's office won't allow regular grand juries to investigate police shootings, a special grand jury is convened in cases where the evidence is unclear on whether the officer or officers in question were justified in using force.
Prosecutors will have to find a way to convene and question 75 to 80 people in order to cull 12 jurors and up to three alternates to decide if Taylor should face charges, Moore said.
Social-distancing guidelines make jury selection a particularly risky challenge, and juries have not been empaneled since the orders went into place in March, she said.
As is common in officer-involved shootings, no charges have been filed pending the outcome of the grand jury investigation. If an indictment goes forward, Taylor would either be arrested or allowed to turn himself in.
The DA has not announced yet whether prosecutors will pursue charges in the 2019 shooting of 46-year-old Mauris Nishanga DeSilva, who was wielding a knife when he was killed during a confrontation in a downtown apartment building with three officers, including Taylor.
In the death of Ramos, 42, a caller had reported to police that he was doing drugs in his car and had a gun. After a confrontation outside his car, Ramos got back into his car and was fatally shot by Taylor after he started driving.
Texas Rangers, after an investigation, told Moore's office a week ago that he was unarmed, prompting her decision to pursue the case.
"It has been one of our rules of thumb that we would present [to the grand jury] on a case when the deceased was unarmed," she said.
By law in Texas, all felony charges must come through a grand jury indictment, but it is up to the DA to decide if evidence in any case—including cases involving police use of force—merits a grand jury hearing. Travis County grand juries typically convene several times per week for terms lasting about three months, Moore said.
Three years ago, with the support of criminal justice advocates, the DA's office began calling special grand juries for cases involving police use of force. The panelists are put through a three-day orientation on the issue before taking up the assigned case.
Moore has taken criticism from her political opponents over her decision not to automatically send every police-involved shooting to the grand jury. She says it allows her to release information and evidence on justified use-of-force cases that would otherwise be sealed in grand jury files that are not subject to open records.
"The point of doing that is to put as much information into the public domain as possible," Moore said.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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