ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A state District Court judge has handed city attorneys another setback in the civil case against an APD officer who fatally shot an Iraq War veteran in 2010, excluding from next week’s trial the conclusion of an “investigative grand jury” that the shooting was justified under New Mexico law.
Judge Shannon Bacon already had ruled that officer Brett Lampiris-Tremba violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Kenneth Ellis III when he unlawfully shot Ellis, who was holding a gun to his own head in a convenience store parking lot but never pointed it at police or threatened anyone.
So it’s unclear how much exclusion of the grand jury’s finding, which was part of a criminal proceeding, will affect the remaining claims in the civil case.
Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy, who is defending Lampiris-Tremba, said the trial itself will bear out the impact of Bacon’s rulings.
Frances Carpenter, one of the attorneys representing Ellis’ family, said Bacon’s decision to keep the grand jury’s finding out of the civil trial was the right one.
“It’s just not relevant,” Carpenter said in a telephone interview. “That investigative grand jury proceeding was never a true measure of this shooting anyway, because the grand jury didn’t have all the facts.”
Earlier this year, District Court judges barred District Attorney Kari Brandenburg and her prosecutors from presenting police shooting cases to the special grand jury panels, which didn’t have the power to indict and which, since their inception in the 1980s, have never found an officer unjustified in shooting someone.
Ellis family attorneys may be able to use portions of Lampiris-Tremba’s sworn testimony before the grand jury during the civil trial, but under Bacon’s ruling, they will have to consult with the judge prior to doing so.
At the civil trial, jurors will decide how much money the city will have to pay Ellis’ family for the unlawful shooting.
They also will consider the following claims:
♦ That APD and Chief Schultz were negligent in hiring Lampiris-Tremba, training him and keeping him on the force.
♦ That Lampiris-Tremba violated Ellis’ Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights and his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Ellis suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
♦ Whether APD officer Byron “Trey” Economidy’s stop of Ellis’ vehicle, which was done after a request from Lampiris-Tremba, violated Ellis’ Fourth Amendment rights.
The Ellis shooting, in January 2010, was among the first in a string of deadly and non-deadly force encounters involving city police that, in large part, led to the U.S. Justice Department’s current civil rights investigation of APD.
— This article appeared on page C01 of the Albuquerque Journal