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Ellis family accuses city of delaying tactics

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A parade of private attorneys, all hired by the city of Albuquerque, walked into state District Court on Friday to argue about who should be on the hook — in name only — for the lion’s share of a $10.3 million judgment awarded last month to the family of an Iraq war veteran who was fatally shot by an Albuquerque police detective.

The options: APD Detective Brett Lampiris-Tremba, who shot 25-year-old Kenneth Ellis III in the neck outside a Northeast Heights convenience store in 2010 after a nine-minute standoff with police; APD officer Byron “Trey” Economidy, who had pinned Ellis’ vehicle into a parking space outside the store as part of a stolen vehicle investigation; or the city of Albuquerque, which hired the two officers.

Regardless of whom the judgment is entered against, the city will pick up the tab.

During Friday’s hearing, state District Judge Shannon Bacon heard arguments from attorneys for each of the two officers and for the city. The attorneys all asked that the judgment not be entered against their clients.

Bacon said she would enter the judgment after taking under advisement the arguments. It is unclear when she will do so.

Attorneys for the Ellis family accused the city of using delay tactics to avoid paying the judgment — one of the largest in city history — and of “silly legal posturing.”

“It’s awful to put this family through this all over again,” said Joe Kennedy, one of Ellis’ lawyers. “And now, the citizens are paying for all those lawyers in there to make frivolous arguments.”

In all, there were five city-paid attorneys in the courtroom Friday.

City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry refused to say how much the city was paying them and instead suggested a public records request be filed for the information.

Dayna Gardner, a spokeswoman for Mayor Richard Berry, issued a written statement.

“As we have stated in the past, this case has many post-trial motions and appeals still to come,” the statement said. “This case is far from being resolved. We will decline to respond to any comments that were made by others outside the courtroom today.”

Bacon in February ruled the shooting was an excessive use of force as a matter of law. A jury, after a two-week trial in March, found that: Lampiris-Tremba, who had been with the department 14 years at the time of the shooting and now is in line for a promotion to sergeant, acted “willfully, wantonly or recklessly” when he shot Ellis; Economidy used excessive force when he pinned Ellis’ vehicle into a parking space in front of the 7-Eleven at Eubank and Constitution NE; and 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 leveled a judgment of $2.7 million in punitive damages against Lampiris-Tremba and $7.64 million in compensatory damages.

The latter sum is what’s at issue now.

The judgment form completed by the jury had only one line for who should pay the compensatory damages. Attorneys for the city and for the two officers argued there should’ve been three lines, one for each of the three parties.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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