A Bernalillo County jury on Friday awarded more than $10 million in damages in a civil lawsuit filed by the family of Kenneth Ellis III, an Iraq war veteran who was shot once in the neck by APD Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba.
The verdict includes $2.7 million in punitive damages against Lampiris-Tremba and damages of $7.6 million against the city.
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: APD officer ‘consciously’ shot Ellis
Day 5: Jury gets APD shooting case
Day 6: Full story below
Online extra: Odds, ends and context from the Ellis trial
This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal on 3/15/13
A Bernalillo County jury on Thursday wrestled for about four hours with several questions related to a 2010 fatal police shooting – chief among them how much money the city of Albuquerque must pay the 7-year-old son of the man who was killed.
The jury began deliberations about 1 p.m. in the civil lawsuit filed by the family of Kenneth Ellis III, an Iraq war veteran who was shot once in the neck by APD Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba. Ellis was holding a gun to his own head in a standoff with officers.
State District Judge Shannon Bacon sent the jurors home about 5 p.m. They are set to resume deliberations this morning.
The key question is how much the jury will award in damages, because Bacon ruled before the trial began that an officer making objectively reasonable decisions wouldn’t have shot Ellis – that as a matter of law, Lampiris-Tremba used excessive force.
Bacon, during the course of the trial, has also dismissed three claims: for punitive damages against a second officer, one alleging the city was negligent in training Lampiris-Tremba and a third claiming violation of Ellis’ rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
That leaves the jury to decide the amount of damages, whether the city was negligent in hiring, supervising and retaining Lampiris-Tremba and whether another officer violated Ellis’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure in stopping him that day.
Testimony from plaintiffs’ experts has estimated potential damages in excess of $7 million.
Jurors heard closing arguments from attorneys for the city and for the Ellis family as the trial wound to a close.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Shannon Kennedy began her argument by telling jurors that APD officers testifying in the case “have told you many lies.”
“The plaintiffs have shown you the truth,” Kennedy said.
Reiterating points from her opening statement from last week, Kennedy summarized the Ellis family’s claims as follows: who, besides Lampiris-Tremba, is responsible for Ellis’ death; what is the price of the 25-year-old’s life; and should Lampiris-Tremba be punished as a deterrent to future unlawful police shootings.
In her closing argument, Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy repeated Lampiris-Tremba’s testimony, saying he made “the best decision he could” during a highly dangerous situation in front of an open-for-business convenience store at a busy Northeast Albuquerque intersection. She added that Lampiris-Tremba “accepts and understands the court’s decision” that the shooting was unlawful.
The veteran detective “will live knowing that the decision he made … was the wrong one,” Levy said, arguing against an award from the jury of punitive damages. “That is a lifetime punishment.”
Levy argued that APD officer Byron “Trey” Economidy’s stop of Ellis’ vehicle as part of an auto theft investigation – which preceded the shooting – was perfectly legal.
One of the plaintiffs’ claims is that Economidy violated Ellis’ Fourth Amendment rights when he pinned Ellis’ Corvette into a parking space in front of the 7-Eleven at Constitution and Eubank NE.
During rebuttal argument Thursday, Frances Carpenter, another of the Ellises’ attorneys, told jurors that both Economidy and Lampiris-Tremba had testified that police didn’t have probable cause to stop Ellis.
“That’s an easy one for you guys,” she told the jury.
Among the plaintiffs’ other claims is that the city was negligent in hiring and supervising Lampiris-Tremba and in keeping him on the force. The family’s expert on police practices testified last week that a series of incidents that should have kept him from being a police officer.
Before he was hired in 1997, Lampiris-Tremba used a fake ID to buy alcohol while he was in the Marines. He also lied on his 1992 application about previous marijuana use.
Arguing against those claims, Levy said Lampiris-Tremba “bared his soul” during the hiring process in 1997. It had been the second time he tried to become an Albuquerque cop after being rejected in 1992.
Referring to testimony from the plaintiffs’ expert, Levy said: “He would have you believe that the mistakes of your youth should hurt you forever. That is not the philosophy of the Albuquerque Police Department.”
There were incidents after he was hired in 1997 that should have led to Lampiris-Tremba’s termination, the plaintiffs’ expert testified, including forging a supervisor’s initials in a log book for days off, then lying to an APD sergeant about it in 2002.
Levy pointed out in her closing argument that Lampiris-Tremba was disciplined for the infraction – he was suspended for a day – and that the people who knew him at APD stood by him.
She also addressed discrepancies in statements Lampiris-Tremba had given investigators about why he shot Ellis – primarily that he had never mentioned a step Ellis allegedly took toward another officer until the civil proceedings.
Levy brushed off the discrepancies, saying Lampiris-Tremba had been emotionally distraught when he gave the first statement the day after the shooting. He gave the second statement – and also left out the step toward an officer on that occasion – nearly a year later.
In her rebuttal, Carpenter said the changing stories for why Lampiris-Tremba pulled the trigger constituted further evidence of his inability to tell the truth.
“Once a liar, always a liar,” she said. “And with Brett Lampiris-Tremba, we see that time and time and time again … Judgment is the key to this case, and Brett Lampiris-Tremba has never exercised good judgment.”
Carpenter closed by admonishing the jury as to the weight of the case.
“In this country, there have been cases that have shaped the community,” she said. “This is one of those cases. This is that case.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal