(Austonia staff)

The death of Michael Ramos at the hands of police was part of what spurred protests over the weekend.

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.

(Shutterstock)

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