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Austin Police Officer Is Charged With Murder in a Second On-Duty Killing

·5 min read
A photo provided by the DeSilva family shows Mauris DeSilva, center, with his parents, Joanie and Denzil DeSilva circa 2006. (Family photo via The New York Times)
A photo provided by the DeSilva family shows Mauris DeSilva, center, with his parents, Joanie and Denzil DeSilva circa 2006. (Family photo via The New York Times)

A police officer in Austin, Texas, who was charged with murdering a man in April 2020 has been charged with murdering another man about nine months earlier, prosecutors said on Friday.

The latest indictments charge the officer, Christopher Taylor, 29, and another officer, Karl Krycia, 28, with murder and deadly conduct in the fatal shooting of Mauris DeSilva, 46, who had been holding a knife in the hallway of his condominium complex on July 31, 2019.

The charges came five months after Taylor had been charged with fatally shooting Michael Ramos, 42, outside an Austin apartment complex on April 24, 2020.

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The killing of Ramos, who was Black and Hispanic, set off protests against police violence in Austin about a month before the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis catalyzed global demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism.

DeSilva had severe mental illness and had been holding a knife to his neck when people in the building called 911, according to a lawsuit filed by his father that accuses Taylor and Krycia of knowing that DeSilva was experiencing a mental health crisis and yet still responding “as if this were the scene of a violent crime.”

Taylor’s lawyers argued that he had been protecting himself after DeSilva refused to drop the knife and came within three or four feet of the officer.

“What happened was undoubtedly tragic, particularly if it is true the man was experiencing a psychiatric episode, but in no way was this murder,” the lawyers, Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell, said in a statement.

They accused José Garza, a former federal public defender who was elected Travis County district attorney in November 2020, of “waging a war on police officers.”

Garza’s office responded by noting that, since January, 12 officers whose potentially criminal conduct had been reviewed by a grand jury did not end up facing charges.

Jason English, a lawyer for Krycia, said in a statement, “While we are sorry any time that a life is lost, we do believe that the actions were reasonable under the facts and justified under the law.”

Krycia has been placed on paid administrative duty, Austin’s police chief, Joseph Chacon, said. Taylor remains on leave without pay in connection with the killing of Ramos, he said.

“APD respects the role the grand jury holds in the criminal justice process and will continue to cooperate with the District Attorney’s Office on this case,” Chacon said in a statement that noted that the officers were presumed innocent.

Lawyers for DeSilva’s father, Denzil DeSilva, said the charges would begin to help him heal.

“Due to the excessive force used by Austin Police Department officers, Denzil lost a beloved son, and the world lost a talented scientist and researcher,” the father’s lawyers said in a statement.

DeSilva grew up in Sri Lanka and had a doctorate in biomedical engineering, according to the father’s lawsuit. He also suffered from “increasingly severe mental illness” during the last years of his life, which the Austin police knew about, according to the lawsuit.

In February 2015, DeSilva grabbed a knife and threatened to hurt himself, and the Austin police responded, taking him to a hospital. In May 2019, he required “an emotionally disturbed person” intervention by the police, and on July 7, 2019, just weeks before he was fatally shot, he was committed to emergency detention, according to the lawsuit.

On the day DeSilva was killed, a neighbor called 911 to report that DeSilva was having “another mental episode” and asked that a mental health officer be dispatched, according to the lawsuit. Several others who saw DeSilva holding a knife to his neck also called 911.

Austin had a mental health officer on duty at the time, but Taylor and Krycia and two other officers responded instead, the lawsuit states. They spoke to building workers, reviewed security footage and knew that DeSilva was experiencing a mental health crisis, the lawsuit states.

After taking an elevator to the fifth floor with a building worker, the officers found DeSilva in the hallway, with his back to them, looking in a mirror with a knife to his neck, according to the lawsuit.

Taylor and Krycia shouted at DeSilva to drop the knife, and he lowered it. Officers then shouted, “Hey, man,” and DeSilva took one step in their direction, the lawsuit states.

Another officer fired a Taser at DeSilva, and Taylor and Krycia simultaneously fired multiple shots at DeSilva, striking him in the chest, the lawsuit states. DeSilva was pronounced dead at a hospital.

About nine months later, on April 24, 2020, Taylor went to the parking lot of an apartment complex after a 911 caller reported that Ramos was sitting in a car with drugs and holding a gun, with a woman next to him, the police said.

After meeting outside the apartment complex, he and a number of other officers confronted Ramos.

Dashboard camera video released by the police last year shows officers repeatedly ordering Ramos to put his hands up and step out of the car. Ramos can be seen getting out with his hands up. Officers then tell him to lift up his shirt and turn around in a circle, which he did.

Ramos waves his hands and yells at the officers, asking at one point, “What’s going on?” He also yells, “I ain’t got no gun, dog!” with an expletive added.

An officer fired a bean bag at Ramos, striking him in the thigh, the authorities said. Ramos then got back into the car and drove forward as officers yelled at him not to leave.

Taylor fired three rounds from his rifle at Ramos’s moving car, striking him, the police said. Emergency medical workers took Ramos to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The Austin police confirmed after the shooting that Ramos had not had a gun. Ervin said that Taylor planned to plead not guilty in the fatal shooting of Ramos.

© 2021 The New York Times Company