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Parents of mentally ill man fatally shot by APD testify

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

There were few dry eyes in Judge Shannon Bacon’s courtroom by the time the parents of police shooting victim Christopher Torres finished testifying Thursday morning in the wrongful death lawsuit they filed against Albuquerque Police Department and the city.

They described their son’s personality, his diagnosis of schizophrenia when he was 19, how the family rallied to deal with it and the shooting of Christopher in his backyard and its aftermath.

Two officers were at the home to serve an arrest warrant for a two-month-old road rage incident. They got into a scuffle with Torres, who was sitting in the backyard when they came over the fence. Torres was shot three times and died at the scene.

Renetta Torres, an administrator for Bernalillo County, and her husband Stephen Torres, an attorney, described their son as having a generally happy disposition and as a person who loved to be active, whether it was playing soccer, checking on his grandparents, playing with a nephew or helping clean around the house.

With his medications finally more or less stabilized – he still had headaches, his eyes would lock in a position sometimes for hours and stiffness in his muscles – his mother said he was doing “very well.”

He was working part-time for a family friend at a metal fabrication company for a few hours each day unless he felt ill, and Christopher’s employer George Lopez said Christopher was competent, honest and always respectful.

On April 12, 2011, the day Christopher was shot, his parents learned that some kind of event was taking place at the home and rushed to be there, they said. They were barred from their home and the area around it by police officers – Stephen Torres estimated 30 or 40 officers of all kinds were in the immediate area, including SWAT officers who stormed the house despite his offer to open it up for them.

The defense rested later Thursday after calling just two witnesses. Legal argument over the boundaries of what expert toxicologist Dr. Don Fisher could say ultimately consumed more time than his testimony itself.

Attorney Ann Maggiore, one of the legal team defending the city, wanted to link up admissions Torres made to his psychiatrist and to his mother about occasionally using the drug Spice with the timing of certain police reports involving Torres, and to have Fisher offer an opinion that using Spice meant a likelihood of violence.

The apparent goal was to suggest that he was not taking his prescription drugs for paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the police encounter in which he died, and that Spice was the reason.

Torres had Spice in his blood at the time of his death.

2nd District Judge Shannon Bacon said the connections were more appropriate for argument than for expert testimony, and reined in the scope of his testimony.

In the end, Fisher testified only about the effects of Spice – high blood pressure, fast heart rhythm, dilated pupils and some properties associated with methamphetamines, such as anxiety, irritability and delusions.

An APD Crime Lab forensic scientist also testified about the rush job she was asked to perform the day after the shooting on Detective Richard Hilger’s gun. She said she found DNA from three contributors – Hilger, Torres and an unknown third person – but agreed she had no way of knowing how it got there.

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