BILLINGS, Mont. – An unarmed man killed by a Montana police officer during a traffic stop was told repeatedly to raise his hands before the officer shot him three times, according to video footage shown Tuesday during an inquest into the shooting.
Billings Police Officer Grant Morrison shot 38-year-old Richard Ramirez in April when authorities said Ramirez — a suspect in a recent drug-involved shooting — appeared to reach for something during the traffic stop.
In the previously unreleased video from a patrol car dash-cam, Morrison could be heard yelling "Hands up!" at least six times before firing three shots into the vehicle in rapid succession.
The actions of Ramirez could not be seen in the footage.
The two-day inquest will determine if Morrison was justified in the killing. It comes amid heightened scrutiny of law enforcement and recent nationwide protests in response to police killings of unarmed suspects including in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.
Detective Brett Kruger, who investigated the shooting in Billings, testified that two cellophane bags with a small amount of methamphetamine and a syringe were later found near where Ramirez had been sitting in the backseat of the vehicle.
Kruger said Ramirez had two outstanding warrants and was trying to get the drugs out of his pocket to avoid arrest.
Two of the three people in the car with Ramirez testified that Morrison's commands for them to raise their hands were clear. Both said they were in the front seat and couldn't see if Ramirez complied.
The person sitting next to Ramirez, Tom Black, told The Associated Press in the days after the shooting that Ramirez was trying to unbuckle his seatbelt when he was shot.
In 2013, Morrison shot and killed another man during a traffic stop after the man reached for something that was later determined to be a BB gun. An inquest cleared Morrison of wrongdoing in that case.
A seven-person jury will decide if Morrison acted appropriately in the killing of Ramirez and advise prosecutors on whether charges should be pursued.
Montana law requires an inquest whenever someone is killed by law enforcement or dies in custody.
Morrison was expected to testify when the inquest resumes Wednesday.
Before Ramirez was shot, Morrison recognized him as the suspect in a shooting the night before where authorities had recovered 90 grams of methamphetamine, Senior Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Ed Zink said.
"His hand goes up and down two or three times in his pocket while officer Morrison was screaming at him," Zink said about Ramirez.
About a dozen Ramirez family members and supporters attended the inquest. Most wore T-shirts with an image of him.
Sister Julie Ramirez said outside the inquest that the family wants Morrison charged with murder. She noted that her family is half-Mexican and accused the police of racial profiling in the case.
"He could have tased my brother or called for backup," Julie Ramirez said. "When Officer Morrison got out of that patrol car he knew he was going to kill my brother."
Two of Morrison's co-workers, Sgt. Matthew Brewer and Officer Mark Snider, testified that on the night before his death, Ramirez was identified as the suspect in a shooting across town. Morrison was aware of that information and had been searching for Ramirez with other officers, testimony showed.
Brewer and Snider said Ramirez was known to them as a methamphetamine user, which Snider said can make suspects violent and uncontrollable.
Members of the Ramirez family have acknowledged his drug use and previous arrests linked to drugs. However, they say that criminal history was wrongly used to rationalize his death.
Ramirez was the fifth man to be fatally shot during a two-year period by law enforcement in Billings, Montana's most populous city.
Last week, the wife of one of those people, Daniel Brawley, filed a civil rights lawsuit in Montana District Court against the City of Billings and Officer David Punt, seeking damages for alleged excessive use of force.
Brawley was shot by Punt after being arrested in a burglary and trying to escape in Punt's patrol car, striking the officer.
An inquest into Brawley's death determined Punt's actions were justified. The city has not formally responded to the lawsuit, but Billings Police spokesman Lt. R.D. Harper said Tuesday the inquest confirmed Punt did not use excessive force.