Correction: In its print and online editions Saturday, the Journal misreported the pre-trial settlement negotiations between the city of Albuquerque and attorneys for the family of Kenneth Ellis III, who was fatally shot by a city police officer in 2010.
The Journal reported that, after a state district judge ruled that the shooting was unlawful, the family offered to settle the case for $1.3 million and other concessions.
In fact, the city had made the offer of $1.3 million to settle with the Ellis family.
The Journal attributed the incorrect information to Shannon Kennedy, an attorney for the family. In fact, Kennedy had provided correct information to the Journal in an email.
But a Journal reporter misread the email.
In an email to the Journal on Saturday, Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy said the family’s offer had been $10 million.
On Friday, a jury awarded the family $10.3 million in damages: $7.6 million against the city for wrongful death and $2.7 million in punitive damages against Brett Lampiris-Tremba, the officer who fired the fatal shot.
This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal on 3/16/13
Members of the Ellis family wept openly in a seventh floor courtroom in Downtown Albuquerque on Friday as a judge read one of the largest judgments ever leveled against the city’s police department: more than $10.3 million for the unlawful fatal shooting by one of its officers of an Iraq war veteran in 2010.
An attorney for the family told the Journal on Friday that the city offered to settle the case last month for $1.3 million and other concessions last month after state District Judge Shannon Bacon ruled that APD Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba’s shooting of Kenneth Ellis III was unlawful.
Deputy City Attorney Kathy Levy, who represented Lampiris-Tremba and APD during the weeklong trial, called the judgment “excessive” and said the city plans to file a motion for a new trial and an appeal.
And Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, who formerly served as Mayor Richard Berry’s city attorney, said the city had made a “reasonable” offer to settle the case. He would not say how much it was for.
Ellis’ older sister, Jonelle Ellis, struggled through an interview with reporters on the courthouse steps after a tense, emotional 10 minutes in the courtroom. She said that, together with the announcement on Friday that Chief Ray Schultz is stepping down after eight years at the helm of APD, the verdict represented “victories” for the family and progress for a city she said has grown increasingly distrustful of its police.
“I am so grateful to the jury for getting some justice for my brother and for his son,” Jonelle Ellis said. There’s a lot of work left to do for this community … But for his son, it teaches him to believe in the system. He gets to believe that his daddy didn’t die for nothing.”After six days of trial that featured 15 witnesses called by the plaintiffs and none by the city, the jury was handed the case around 1 p.m. Thursday. Jurors returned with a verdict just before 4 p.m. Friday. Here’s what they decided, unanimously:
♦ That the city must pay Ellis’ now-7-year-old son more than $7.6 million in damages for the wrongful death of Ellis.
♦ That Lampiris-Tremba acted “willfully, wantonly or recklessly” when he shot Ellis once in the neck during a nine-minute encounter between the 25-year-old veteran, who suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder, and several officers outside a 7-Eleven at Constitution and Eubank NE.
For that, the jury ordered Lampiris-Tremba, who had been with APD 14 years at the time of the shooting and is now in line for promotion to sergeant, to pay $2.7 million in punitive damages. Historically, the city has covered such costs.
♦ That officer Byron “Trey” Economidy used excessive force when he pinned Ellis’ vehicle into a parking space in front of the 7-Eleven at Eubank and Constitution NE as part of an auto theft investigation. The stop eventually led to a nine-minute encounter that ended when Lampiris-Tremba shot Ellis.
However, the jury ruled that Economidy did not violate Ellis’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution. And the city was not negligent in the way it supervised Economidy, the jury found.
♦ That the city was negligent in the way it supervised Lampiris-Tremba and in keeping him on the force. That negligence, the jury ruled, was among the causes of the unlawful shooting.
The jury also found the city was not negligent in hiring Lampiris-Tremba.
Immediately after Judge Bacon read the verdict and polled the jury, Levy, Economidy, Lampiris-Tremba and APD Commander Doug West left through the back exit of the courtroom, avoiding reporters.
They were later seen in a gated area south of the courthouse. Economidy appeared to be crying.
Bacon’s and the jury’s rulings on the shooting of Ellis weren’t the first reviews of the case.
In 2010, District Attorney Kari Brandenburg’s office presented it – based on an investigation by APD with assistance from other law enforcement agencies – to an “investigative grand jury,” which ruled that Lampiris-Tremba’s actions were justified under New Mexico law.
And in 2011, then-city Independent Review Officers William Deaton ruled that Lampiris-Tremba had violated APD policies in shooting Ellis. But the Police Oversight Commission overturned Deaton’s ruling and called the shooting justified. Chief Schultz agreed with the commission, and Lampiris-Tremba was not disciplined for the shooting.
The jury in the civil case that concluded Friday didn’t hear testimony about the “investigative grand jury” finding or the POC’s decision.
In addition to the $1.3 million, the family’s settlement offer included a request of the city for a written resolution from Mayor Berry and a majority of city councilors acknowledging that the shooting was unjustified and offering an apology to the family.
The Ellises also asked that Lampiris-Tremba and Economidy receive 40 hours of specialized crisis intervention training within a year, and for 75 percent of APD officers to receive the training within two years.
“CIT training is the training that, if followed on the day of the shooting, would have saved the life of Kenneth Ellis III,” said Shannon Kennedy, one of the attorneys who represented the family. “We were told they would not consider our requests for equitable relief.”
Lampiris-Tremba’s shooting of Ellis was among the first in a succession of deadly force encounters involving APD officers – several of which are now the subject of civil lawsuits – that added up to the most visible factor in the U.S. Justice Department’s decision last winter to launch a sweeping civil rights investigation of the city’s police department.
In addition to the civil probe, there also are several ongoing federal criminal investigations of APD officers. It is unclear which incidents are under criminal investigations.
Justice Department officials sat in the courtroom for much of the Ellis trial.
Chief Schultz sat in for about an hour of Lampiris-Tremba’s testimony earlier this week. He was not in the courtroom Friday when the verdict was read.
In a telephone interview late Friday, Levy said: “It’s been a difficult case, it’s been a difficult trial. We believe the verdict was excessive.”
Frances Carpenter, another of the Ellises’ attorneys, praised the family’s persistence.
“In all my years of civil rights work, this family has done more to effectuate change in this community than any family I have ever seen,” Carpenter said.
Annelle Wharton, Ellis’ mother, added: “It’s been a long three years.”
Journal staff writer Patrick Lohmann contributed to this report.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal