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Jury clears APD officer of liability in shooting

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal jury handed the Albuquerque Police Department a victory in an excessive force case Friday – the same day the department and the city inked an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice dealing with that and other issues.

The jury of eight took just over an hour to return a verdict finding no liability for Officer Leah Kelly in the Sept. 14, 2010, shooting of a mentally ill young man, who had left the Downtown transit center in an agitated state and was using a butter knife to slash his wrist and arm.

A Greyhound Bus supervisor called 911 after Chandler Barr, then 19, became upset after talking to the bus company employee about exchanging a ticket and learning it would cost $50 unless he provided proof of his recent hospitalization.

Kelly, who arrived at Second Street and Central minutes later, shot Barr twice in the chest less than 30 seconds after getting there. Kelly got out of the car with her gun drawn just as Barr, who had been followed for several blocks by three transit employees, arrived at the corner and began to step off the curb.

Kelly said she was trained in de-escalation techniques, but they required containment of a subject. An armed person is considered dangerous if he or she is less than 21 feet away, and Kelly said that was the distance between her and Barr when he was unresponsive to her shouted commands to “Stop!”

“I was presented with a situation that I believe I handled appropriately in the way I was trained,” she said during testimony Friday.

The jury, which heard testimony this week before U.S. Magistrate Judge Greg Wormuth, got the case at about 4 p.m. and returned a verdict before 5:30.

Barr’s attorney, Cammie Nichols, afterward said only, “We respect the jury verdict.” Barr remains homeless and lives on minimal Social Security disability checks, she said.

Stephanie Griffin, who defended Kelly and the city, said her clients were “pleased with the results and happy that the jury evaluated the case fairly and objectively, and carefully considered the evidence.”

“I told the jury this case is important to both sides and to look at all the circumstances,” she said, “and obviously they did.”

In her closing argument, Griffin called the situation “tragic” because Barr was not only shot, but left with a bullet near his spine. But she said Barr had charged the officer and admitted as much in a YouTube posting and in a statement to medical personnel in Minnesota two years after the incident.

Nichols said Kelly made the situation dangerous situation by jumping out of the police car, yelling and screaming at a man she already knew from dispatch to be disturbed.

“This never had to happen,” Nichols told the jury.