Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Iraq war vet was killed by APD while holding gun to his own head
The shooting of an Iraq War veteran during a police standoff would cost the city of Albuquerque nearly $8 million under the terms of a tentative settlement agreement reached Monday.
The payment would end litigation over one of the highest profile police shootings of the last few years – the killing of Kenneth Ellis III in 2010.
A judge already had ruled the shooting unlawful and a jury last year returned a $10.3 million verdict. The city has appealed.
But City Attorney David Tourek said the settlement makes financial sense.
“The amount could have grown exponentially with attorney fees and interest,” Tourek said. “This was in the best interest of the taxpayers.”
The settlement won’t be final unless a judge approves, he said. If approved, it would bring the city’s total payout in cases involving allegations of police misconduct to roughly $24 million since the beginning of 2010.
The Journal wasn’t immediately able to reach an attorney for the Ellis family.
In March last year, a state District Court jury ruled that the city should pay Ellis’ then-7-year-old son $10.3 million in damages for the wrongful death of his father.
Jurors also ruled that Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba, who shot Ellis, acted “willfully, wantonly or recklessly.” Lampiris-Tremba is still employed at the police department.
During the trial, he testified that he shot Ellis because he was afraid for his own and other officers’ safety, among other reasons. A grand jury that reviewed the case for potential criminal charges decided that Lampiris-Tremba was justified.
Ellis, 25, was killed in a January 2010 standoff outside a Northeast Heights convenience store. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and held a gun to his own head throughout the encounter, which ended when Lampiris-Tremba shot him once in the neck.
Since then, the Ellis family has been a vocal critic of APD.
The shooting was among a string of encounters that contributed to the launch of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into whether APD has a pattern of violating people’s civil rights, specifically through the use of force.
Albuquerque police officers have fired at 35 suspects since early 2010, with 22 ending in fatalities. But in one of those cases, the suspect was killed by a State Police officer and, in another, police haven’t confirmed whether the suspect died from police fire.
Shortly after the Ellis verdict last year, Tourek said the $10.3 million award was the largest initial “finding of liability” ever against the city, as far as he knew. It wasn’t the biggest case overall, if attorney fees and the accrual of interest are factored in. That would be an Uptown zoning case, which ended up at $13.5 million.
Tourek said the city’s risk-management fund already had $11 million in reserve for the Ellis case.
The city is, however, looking to bolster the fund further. A recent budget forecast estimated a nearly $2.6 million increase in “risk costs” for the city’s self-insurance fund, which handles legal claims.
Click here for full coverage of the controversy surrounding Albuquerque police shootings and a history of the events that contributed to the launch of a federal investigation into APD.