APD officer 'consciously' shot Ellis - Albuquerque Journal

APD officer ‘consciously’ shot Ellis

APD Detective Gerald Roach demonstrates during testimony the way Ellis held a gun to his own head. (Jeff Proctor/Journal)
APD Detective Gerald Roach demonstrates during testimony the way Ellis held a gun to his own head. (Jeff Proctor/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: Officer Explains Fatal Shooting
Day 4: Full story below

4:25 p.m.

APD scored two victories in the ongoing civil court trial into a 2010 fatal police shooting this afternoon.

The first came when plaintiffs’ attorneys abandoned their pursuit of punitive damages against the officer who pinned the vehicle being driven by Kenneth Ellis III into a Northeast Albuquerque parking lot before another officer, Brett Lampiris-Tremba, shot Ellis.

The second, and more significant, win came when state District Judge Shannon Bacon granted a motion by the city to dismiss a claim that APD was negligent in the way it trained Lampiris-Tremba.

An enormous amount of testimony during the trial, which began last week, has been about the way APD trains its officers to deal with people in crisis.

Deputy City Attorney made several other motions today after the Ellis family’s final witness finished testifying. Bacon listened to arguments from Levy and plaintiffs’ attorneys Joe and Shannon Kennedy and Frances Carpenter after excusing the jury for the day.

Levy sought first to have Bacon reconsider her ruling last month that Lampiris-Tremba’s shooting of Ellis was unlawful or, at the least, allow the jury to consider that question. Bacon denied that motion.

The judge also denied Levy’s motions to dismiss the plaintiffs’ other claims:

  • That the city was negligent in hiring and supervising Lampiris-Tremba and keeping him on the force after a series of what a plaintiffs’ expert on police practices called fire-able offenses.
  • That Economidy’s stop of Ellis’ vehicle was unlawful under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  • That the jury should be allowed to consider punitive damages against Lampiris-Tremba.

Bacon was still deciding this afternoon on Levy’s motion to dismiss claims that Lampiris-Tremba violated Ellis’ rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Ellis was a veteran of the Iraq War and suffered from post-traumatic stress-disorder.

The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning with the city’s only two witnesses in the case, a rebuttal witness for the plaintiffs and closing statements. Bacon told jurors today that they would have the case at some point tomorrow.

1:30 p.m.

Morning testimony in the fifth day of a civil-court trial into a 2010 fatal police shooting featured further attacks by plaintiffs’ attorneys on APD’s training of officers to deal with people in crisis and the perspective of another officer who was on-scene at the shooting.

A common theme in the trial — which began with a lawsuit against APD, the officer who stopped a vehicle being driven by Iraq war veteran Kenneth Ellis III, and the officer who fatally shot Ellis — has been that city police are trained that “distance buys you time” and “time is on your side” during volatile situations.

Attorneys for the Ellis family have used witness testimony to paint a picture of a volatile scene at which officers made a nine-minute encounter with Ellis in a convenience store parking lot worse by — in opposition to their training and department policies — yelling at him, not doing enough to establish rapport with him and closing in too near the 25-year-old with their weapons drawn on him.

Ellis, who had been pinned into the parking lot by officer Byron “Trey” Economidy as part of an auto theft investigation, held a gun to his own head and paced in a small area during the standoff.

It ended when Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba shot Ellis once in the neck from, according to his own testimony, 10 to 15 feet away.

This morning, Detective Gerald Roach, who was less than 10 feet from Ellis when he was shot, testified that APD officers are taught in the police academy and during ongoing training the “21-foot rule.”

That’s the distance, Roach testified, that an armed subject can close in the two seconds it takes an officer to respond with his or her own weapon.

Keeping a 21-foot distance from an armed subject, Roach testified, “is good in the classroom. But living rooms, parking lots, businesses — they’re all different.”

State District Judge Shannon Bacon ruled before the trial began that the shooting was unlawful — excessive force as a matter of law. The ruling left in the hands of the jury how much the city will have to pay in damages to Ellis’ 7-year-old son and a number of other questions.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Shannon Kennedy asked Roach this morning whether he was familiar with the phrase “officer-induced jeopardy.” As the veteran detective was preparing to answer, Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy objected and, after a conference between the lawyers and the judge, Kennedy abandoned the inquiry.

Roach testified that he has received training through the years on what to do when faced with someone pointing a gun to his own head — primarily that distance buys officers time, which is useful in trying to “talk someone down.”

Earlier in the trial, Lampiris-Tremba said he hadn’t been trained on that particular scenario prior to the day he shot Ellis.

After Roach, APD Sgt. Bruce DeHerrera took the witness stand. From 2007 to 2008, DeHerrera was in charge of the department’s Crisis Intervention Team.

DeHerrera testified that, since the mid-1990s, APD has offered enhanced training in crisis intervention for officers who show sufficient maturity, interest in the specialty, skills and present a letter from a supervisor. The training, he said, is given in a 40-hour block.

DeHerrera drew a distinction between that training, which earns officers extra hazard pay and a certification, and the “basic de-escalation techniques” taught at the APD academy.

He said that since the time he went through the academy in 1992, officers have been taught the basic skills — although he did not provide specifics after questions from plaintiffs’ attorneys.

And since at least 2006, DeHerrera testified, APD has provided a 40-hour block of somewhat more detailed crisis intervention training to all cadets at its academy.

Even that training, DeHerrera testified, is less specialized than the instruction that earns officers the CIT certification.

Neither Lampiris-Tremba nor Economidy was CIT certified at the time Ellis was shot. Roach wasn’t either.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Kennedy questioned DeHerrera about an APD policy on dealing with people in crisis that describes officers duty to let individuals know that police are “there to help.”

Officers never spoke those words to Ellis.

“Is there any reason any officer shouldn’t know this” policy? Joe Kennedy asked DeHerrera.

The sergeant responded: “No, but that is very broad. There are tactical and legal obligations to consider. Those are guidelines. The situation will dictate the response.”

The same policy, Joe Kennedy pointed out, requires officers to allow people in crisis to “ventilate their feelings.”

DeHerrera acknowledged the policy, but said it wouldn’t necessarily apply to someone with a gun. That’s because officers’ first priority in such a situation would be to disarm the subject.

“It’s hard to have a conversation with someone when they’re armed,” DeHerrera testified. “Officer safety will always take precedence.”

Joe Kennedy then got DeHerrera to agree that the point of verbal de-escalation techniques in a situation like the one officers encountered with Ellis would be disarmament of the subject.

The plaintiffs’ final witness was Robert Encinio, Ellis’ brother in law, who testified around noon today. He described the symptoms of Ellis’ pos-traumatic stress disorder after Ellis returned from war in the middle part of the last decade.

Encinio also testified about Ellis’ funeral, to which Levy, the APD attorney, objected.

After Encinio’s testimony, Judge Bacon sent the jury home for the day. She told jurors that the city will call two witnesses tomorrow. A rebuttal witness for the plaintiffs will follow.

From there, the attorneys will make their closing statements. Bacon said she anticipates the case being turned over to the jury at some point tomorrow.

At this hour, Levy is arguing for summary dismissal of all the plaintiffs’ claims — outside the presence of the jury.

This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal on 3/13/31

As Kenneth Ellis fell to the ground in front of a Northeast Albuquerque convenience store with a gunshot wound in his neck, the police officer who shot him, Brett Lampiris-Tremba, entered a state of shock.

That was part of the longtime Albuquerque Police Department detective’s testimony during the fourth day of a civil trial in state District Court in which he, another officer and the city of Albuquerque are defendants in a lawsuit filed by Ellis’ family.

Lampiris-Tremba fatally shot Ellis, a 25-year-old Iraq War veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, once in the neck with his Springfield 1911 .45 caliber handgun during a nine-minute encounter. Ellis was holding a gun to his own head throughout the standoff.

“I saw one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen in my life” as the bullet struck Ellis, Lampiris-Tremba said, adding that in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, he was “an emotional wreck” and “completely useless.”

Later Tuesday, Lampiris-Tremba conceded that he had given Ellis no warning prior to shooting him — which is required under APD policy “whenever feasible” — and that there may have been time to do so.

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

State District Judge Shannon Bacon had ruled before the trial started that the shooting was unlawful — that an objectively reasonable officer wouldn’t have fired at Ellis. The jury will decide at the conclusion of trial, which is expected to end later this week, a number of questions, including how much money in damages the city must pay Ellis’ 7-year-old son.

Testimony on Tuesday also included an analysis from the plaintiffs’ expert forensic economist that Ellis’ life, based on a variety of calculations and national averages related to earning potential and other considerations, should be valued at about $6 million.

It was the first mention during the trial about how much in damages the city may have to pay.

Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy tried to discredit the calculations on cross-examination of the witness, William Patterson, suggesting that his analysis was based on a “statistical life” and did not reflect “anything about the individual Kenneth Ellis is or was.”

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)

Lampiris-Tremba had a less contentious morning on the witness stand Tuesday than he had the day before, as Levy sought through questioning to address some of the attacks plaintiffs’ attorneys had leveled at Lampiris-Tremba’s credibility during testimony on Monday.

He 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.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys — and their expert witness on police practices — on Monday described several actions by Lampiris-Tremba as reasons he shouldn’t have been hired. The detective said Tuesday he revealed those incidents during the hiring process because he was simply trying to be “brutally honest” with APD.

Some of those incidents included: vehicle collisions he’d been involved in before becoming a police officer; a nude walk in public 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 de-scribed a “hot scene” on the day he shot Ellis. And answering questions from Levy, he noted several points at which his concerns grew about the encounter.

Ellis had a gun, which he pointed at his own head; he was “agitated;” Lampiris-Tremba and others believed he may have been high on methamphetamine; there was a busy intersection and several businesses nearby; and Ellis ignored repeated orders from officers to drop his weapon, Lampiris-Tremba testified.

The toxicology report on Ellis is not part of the evidence for the trial.

The final reason Lampiris-Tremba 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 nearly a year 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 as 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 “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 is supposed to be the most accurate,” 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.”

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

And as Kennedy continued, Lampiris-Tremba conceded that he had given Ellis no warning prior to shooting him. “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.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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