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Journal reporter Jeff Proctor is in the courtroom at the Ellis trial. He will be live tweeting and filing updates on this page.
12:20 p.m. The opening session of the civil trial into an APD officer’s fatal shooting of an Iraq War veteran ended abruptly around 11:45 a.m. today when testimony from a witness started to wander into territory of an issue state District Judge Shannon Bacon already had ruled on.
The issue: whether Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba’s shooting of Kenneth Ellis III in January 2010 was lawful. In granting a motion for summary judgment filed by attorneys representing Ellis’ family, Bacon ruled last month that the shooting violated Ellis’ Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.
But under direct examination from attorney Frances Carpenter, APD officer Byron “Trey” Economidy —who had stopped Ellis’ vehicle in a Northeast Heights convenience store parking lot before Lampiris-Tremba shot the 25-year-old veteran —said that Ellis had posed a threat to officers because he was armed with a gun.
Carpenter asked whether Economidy was aware of Bacon’s ruling on the lawfulness of the shooting, to which the officer answered “yes.” But Bacon called Carpenter and Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy to the bench and, after a brief conversation, announced that she had to work some things out with the lawyers. Bacon then excused the jury for lunch.
Economidy had been the plaintiffs’ first witness in the case, in which jurors will decide how much the city must pay the Ellis family for the unlawful shooting, as well as whether the city is liable for negligently hiring, training and retaining Lampiris-Tremba and whether Economidy’s stop of Ellis’ vehicle was legal.
During opening statements, Shannon Kennedy —another of the Ellises’ attorneys —lambasted what she called APD’s lack of training for officers in the areas of crisis intervention and dealing with people who are living with mental illness. Ellis had post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The evidence will show that if Brett Lampiris-Tremba had had that training, he would’ve known that time was his friend” on the day he shot Ellis once in the neck during a nine-minute encounter with police, Kennedy said.
She also pointed out that Lampiris-Tremba had lied on an application for employment with APD in 1992, then admitted to the lie when he reapplied —and was hired —five years later. And Kennedy listed several instances in which, according to the plaintiffs’ legal team, Lampiris-Tremba violated APD policies, including an incident in which he fired four blasts from a shotgun at a fleeing suspect’s vehicle.
Kennedy said several expert witnesses will testify over the course of the trial, which is expected to last until late next week, including some who will explain how to “calculate the value of human life.”
In her opening remarks, Levy described a tense scene outside the 7-Eleven at Constitution and Eubank NE on Jan. 13, 2010, in which officers encountered a man who admitted to being high on methamphetamine then armed himself with a gun.
She said Economidy’s stop of Ellis was “completely lawful,” and that several of the officers on scene tried to reason with Ellis, who held the gun to his own head throughout the encounter. Moreover, Levy said, officers had no way of knowing Ellis was suffering from PTSD.
“The judge has ruled that the shooting was excessive force,” Levy said, adding that Lampiris-Tremba “will testify that he accepts and understands that.”
She asked the jury to be “reasonable” when considering how much to award in damages.
The courtroom was packed all morning. Several members of Ellis’ family have been in attendance, as have Lampiris-Tremba’s parents. Local civil rights lawyers also have popped in.
Carpenter’s direct examination of Economidy is expected to continue at 1:15 p.m. Lampiris-Tremba is expected to take the stand after Economidy is finished testifying.
I’ll be live-tweeting from the courtroom. You can see my feed on this Web page or by following me on Twitter (@cjproctor74). And pick up a copy of tomorrow’s Journal for a complete story.