Officer Explains Fatal Shooting - Albuquerque Journal

Officer Explains Fatal Shooting

APD Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba describes during cross examination how Kenneth Ellis III was holding the gun to his head as he was shot. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)
APD Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba describes during cross examination how Kenneth Ellis III was holding the gun to his head as he was shot. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Journal reporter Jeff Proctor is in the courtroom at the Ellis trial. He will be live tweeting and filing updates on this page.

Read Proctor’s complete stories from earlier days in the trial:
Day 1: Trial opens in APD shooting death
Day 2: Expert questions officer’s hiring
Day 3: Full story below

1 p.m.
APD Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba, under questioning from the city’s attorney, described for the jury this morning why he decided to be a cop during the fourth day of testimony in a civil trial of his fatal shooting of an Iraq War veteran in 2010.

“I wanted to be a cop pretty badly … I liked helping people and wanted to be a cop since I was a kid,” he said in response to a question from Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy.

For an hour and a half or so, Levy sought through questioning to undo some of the dents plaintiffs’ attorneys had put in Lampiris-Tremba’s credibility during testimony yesterday.

Levy also elicited a response from Lampiris-Tremba about what he experienced directly after a bullet from his Sprimgfield 1911 .45 caliber handgun struck Ellis in the neck during a nine-minute encounter in front of a Northeast Albuquerque 7-Eleven.

“I saw one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen in my life” as Ellis fell to ground bleeding, he said, adding that in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, he was “an emotional wreck” and “completely useless.”

Lampiris-Tremba also described the 12 years he spent with APD prior to the shooting, saying he had once been nominated for detective of the month. He also cited numerous letters of commendation he had received from citizens and from APD brass.

In addressing some of what plaintiffs’ attorneys — and their expert witness on police practices — have described as reasons Lampiris-Tremba shouldn’t have been hired, the detective said he was simply trying to be “brutally honest” during the hiring process.

Some of those incidents included: vehicle collisions he’d been involved in prior to becoming a police officer; a nude walk he took with his wife in Hawaii; the use of a fake ID to buy alcohol while he was in the military; and a party he attended weeks before his employment interview at which people were using drugs.

Lampiris-Tremba described a “hot scene” on the day he shot Ellis. And answering questions from Levy, he noted several points at which his concerns about the encounter grew.

Ellis had a gun, which he pointed at his own head during the encounter, he was “agitated,” Lampiris-Tremba and others believed he may have been high on methamphetamine, and the 25-year-old ignored repeated orders from officers to drop his weapon, Lampiris-Tremba testified.

The final reason he gave for pulling the trigger: because Ellis had taken a step toward another officer.

That assertion was left out of Lampiris-Tremba’s two statements to investigators — the first a day after the shooting, the other some nine months later.

On those occasions, Lampiris-Tremba described a “twitch” Ellis had made.

As soon as Levy ended her questioning of Lampiris-Tremba, things got difficult for him on the witness stand again.

That’s because plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Kennedy pressed the detective hard on several points.

Kennedy noted that the law and APD policies don’t expressly allow officers to shoot someone for ignoring orders to drop a weapon. Both standards require an “in immediate threat,” such as someone pointing a gun at police.

Lampiris-Tremba acknowledged the standards.

Kennedy grilled Lampiris-Tremba on why the detective never mentioned the step toward officers in his interviews.

“I realize that the general rule is that your first statement,” Lampiris-Tremba said. “I do make mistakes when I give statements, and I do know that I left that out. There was no intent to be deceptive.”

Kennedy pressed on, asking whether investigators had revisited Lampiris-Tremba’s reason to shoot multiple times during the interviews. The detective said they had.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer also hammered away at Lampiris-Tremba’s training — as he had done yesterday.

Lampiris-Tremba testified that he had the safety on his gun turned on for most of the encounter with Ellis. Kennedy asked whether the detective had received any training on how long it was take to go from an off-safety position and pull the trigger in the event the officer decided to shoot someone.

Lampiris-Tremba said he had received no such training, then acknowledged that it would be “critical.”

As Kennedy continued, Lampiris-Tremba also conceded that he had given Ellis no warning prior to shooting him. APD policy mandates such warnings must be give “whenever feasible.”

“There could have been time to warn him,” Lampiris-Tremba said.

The detective also addressed for the first time a statement he made right after shooting Ellis: “(expletive) was that me?”

Lampiris-Tremba said he was in shock and, to the best of his recollection, the comment had been in response to other officers who wondered aloud whether Ellis had shot himself.

Lampiris-Tremba said he “consciously” shot Ellis, dispelling any speculation that he may have accidentally pulled the trigger.

In what was the morning session’s most heated exchange — as also its last — Kennedy asked whether Lampiris-Tremba was “aware that (he) shouldn’t have shot” Ellis.

“I am aware of the court’s ruling,” the detective responded, referring to state District Judge Shannon Bacon’s ruling last month that the shooting was unlawful.”

Kennedy then said: “No, I’m not talking about the court’s ruling. Are you aware, today, as a person, that you should not have shot this man?”

At that point, Levy objected, and Bacon called the attorneys to the bench. Afterward, Kennedy abandoned the question, asked two more, and the jury was excused for lunch.

At one point this morning, the plaintiffs’ lawyers showed a picture on a screen of Ellis’ dead body. Kennedy was using the photo as he asked Lampiris-Tremba to describe Ellis’ movements during the encounter and exactly where Ellis was when Lampiris-Tremba shot him.

Lampiris-Tremba struggled to answer the questions.

Lampiris-Tremba’s shooting of Ellis was among the first in a lengthy succession of deadly force encounters involving APD officers that led, in large part, to a massive civil rights investigation of the city’s police.

As they have been at various points throughout the Ellis trial — which began last week — Justice Department lawyers sat in the courtroom this morning during testimony.


The following article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal on 3/12/13:

APD Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba, speaking Monday for the first time publicly about one of the highest profile in a string of police shootings, testified in court that he “made the best decision at the time” when he chose to shoot Iraq War veteran Kenneth Ellis III in 2010.

The veteran officer, who is in line for a promotion to sergeant, also testified that he trusts the training he has received from the Albuquerque Police Department.

Monday marked the third day of testimony in the trial of a lawsuit brought by Ellis’ family.

Lampiris-Tremba spent Monday morning on the witness stand under what was at times withering examination by Joe Kennedy, one of the Ellis family’s attorneys. Kennedy had called Lampiris-Tremba as a witness in the civil lawsuit against the officer, one of his colleagues and the city.

Lampiris-Tremba said he shot Ellis for several reasons: because he was afraid for his own safety and that of his fellow officers; because in a cellphone call to his mother during the encounter, Ellis told her he loved her and that he didn’t want to go to prison – which Lampiris-Tremba perceived as an escalation of the situation; because Ellis took a step toward Detective Gerald Roach; and because Ellis “twitched.”

Judge Shannon Bacon ruled prior to the trial that the shooting was unlawful, which the jury has been told. Jurors will decide damages and several other questions.

Kennedy pointed out that in Lampiris-Tremba’s statement to investigators the day after the shooting, he never mentioned the step toward Roach. In fact, according to a transcript of the interview Kennedy read in court, Lampiris-Tremba had told investigators that Ellis had taken a step in his own direction.

Lampiris-Tremba also said in that interview that he felt like the encounter had gone on too long.

“How does that comport with ‘time is on our side?’ ” Kennedy asked, referring to standard APD de-escalation training Lampiris-Tremba said he had received.

“You’re right about comporting,” Lampiris-Tremba responded. “More time is better. … I thought the situation was getting worse. I did think that I was in trouble – from getting shot or killed – and I do know that time is on our side. But based on other behavioral cues, I didn’t think a successful resolution was possible.”

The exchange drew gasps and murmurs from the packed courtroom.

Among those in attendance Monday, including for the exchange between Kennedy and Lampiris-Tremba, was Police Chief Ray Schultz, who sat in for more than an hour of testimony. It was his first appearance in the courtroom during the trial.

Lampiris-Tremba’s shooting of Ellis was among the first in a series of deadly force encounters for city police officers that, in large part, led to a U.S. Justice Department investigation of APD. That probe is ongoing.

After Kennedy had concluded his questioning of Lampiris-Tremba, the state district judge closed the courtroom to all but the parties, their attorneys and court staff for testimony related to the mental state of Kenneth Ellis IV, Ellis’ now-7-year-old son.

Bacon had determined that the boy’s privacy interests outweighed the public’s interest. The closed-door testimony lasted several hours.

Excessive force

Ellis’ family sued Lampiris-Tremba, officer Byron “Trey” Economidy – who pinned Ellis’ Corvette into a convenience store parking lot as part of an auto theft investigation – and the city of Albuquerque in the aftermath of the shooting.

Bacon’s ruling last month that the fatal shooting was excessive force as a matter of law left a jury to decide how much money the city will have to pay Ellis’ young son, whether the stop of Ellis’ vehicle was legal and whether APD should be on the hook for negligently hiring Lampiris-Tremba and keeping him on the force after several incidents prior to the shooting.

Before questioning Lampiris-Tremba about the specifics of the shooting, Kennedy got the officer’s agreement that Economidy’s stop of Ellis wasn’t a “routine traffic stop.”

Lampiris-Tremba had called Economidy on his police radio to ask him to stop Ellis, who had knocked on the door of an apartment Lampiris-Tremba and other undercover officers were watching as part of an auto theft investigation.

Lampiris-Tremba testified he didn’t have probable cause to believe Ellis had committed a crime, but added: “I do think I had reasonable suspicion.”

Kennedy’s questioning began Monday with details of several incidents that occurred prior to APD hiring Lampiris-Tremba in 1997.

And specifics came out in court about the time Lampiris-Tremba falsified a time card in 2002. The officer had entered his name into a log book for a vacation day for which he wasn’t approved. He also entered a supervisor’s initials to sign off on the request. When a supervisor later questioned him about it, he lied to the supervisor.

“I wasn’t trying to defraud the city,” Lampiris-Tremba testified. “I just didn’t think my supervisors would approve it.”

Lampiris-Tremba was suspended one day for the infraction.

Lampiris-Tremba also was suspended one day and ordered to take additional training on the use of Tasers after an incident in 2004 in which he shot a man with an electronic stun gun whom he had stopped on suspicion of stealing a car.

The man was on his stomach on the ground when Lampiris-Tremba used a Taser on him. The officer said the man refused to remove his hands from the area of his abdomen – which the officer conceded would be considered “passive resistance” under APD policies.

Department policies don’t allow officers to use Tasers on people who are passively resisting, but APD brass at the time determined the incident didn’t rise to the level of excessive force. Lampiris-Tremba was disciplined for failing to call medical personnel for the man – who was not arrested – and for failing to properly document the Taser use.

Lampiris-Tremba is expected back on the stand today.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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