Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Review: APD Shooting Wasn't Justified
By Astrid Galvan
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
An Iraq war veteran shot and killed by Albuquerque police last year did not pose a threat to those around him and should not have been shot, according to the former district court judge who independently reviews police shootings and allegations of APD misconduct.
But the Police Oversight Commission, a citizen panel, rejected the findings of William W. Deaton, the city's independent review officer.
The commission instead sided with APD, which maintains Detective Bret Lampiris-Tremba was justified when he shot and killed Kenneth Ellis III on Jan. 13, 2010, after a minutes-long standoff outside a convenience store at Eubank and Constitution.
Both a Bernalillo County grand jury and APD internal affairs have cleared Lampiris-Tremba.
In a letter addressed to Police Chief Ray Schultz, Deaton states that Ellis, a 25-year-old former U.S. Army infantryman who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, should not have been shot because he did not pose an "immediate threat" to anyone but himself.
The letter was never formally sent to Schultz because the oversight commission rejected it.
Schultz declined to comment on Deaton's findings.
Ellis' actions did not fall under the police statute that would authorize deadly force, Deaton wrote, because Ellis never pointed his gun at anyone but himself and indicated he didn't want to hurt anyone.
"There was never any announcement or movement from Ellis which indicated any intent to do harm to anyone but himself ... given all the circumstances set out above such as the statements of Ellis, Ellis' actions and the extended length of time of the incident, I do not find that there was a reasonable belief of such 'an immediate threat of death of serious physical injury' as to authorize the use of deadly force against Ellis," Deaton wrote.
The independent review officer investigates police shootings and citizen complaints against officers, and submits his findings to the oversight commission. The IRO's investigations are conducted independently of the police department's internal affairs unit and any criminal investigations.
Deaton was a longtime federal magistrate and former state district court judge. He was appointed to the IRO position in 2007 by then-Mayor Martin Chávez.
The Police Oversight Commission has nine members, one for each council district. Members are nominated by city councilors and appointed by the mayor.
The commission can accept or reject findings by the IRO, and its decisions are advisory. The police chief has final say on disciplinary matters regarding officers.
Lawsuit by family
Ellis' family has been highly critical of the department and has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against it.
The family's attorney, Frances Crockett Carpenter, says she is considering asking Deaton to testify. Carpenter said Deaton was correct in his assessment and that Ellis could have been talked into handing over his gun if given more time.
"They're making this out to be suicide by cop and it wasn't. This is not what Kenneth wanted to do," she said.
Ellis might never have encountered police had he not shown up at the apartment of a notorious car thief who was under surveillance that Wednesday.
Undercover detectives were conducting surveillance on the apartment of Jeff Brasher, who recently was sentenced to eight years in prison for a string of property crimes he said were fueled by drug addiction.
Lampiris-Tremba was assigned to watch Brasher's apartment at the Mission Hills on 1000 Menaul NE.
Lampiris-Tremba, a veteran of more than 10 years with the department, noticed Ellis and another man show up at the apartment. The men banged on the door, and Ellis, appearing agitated, tried breaking it open with his shoulders before giving up and walking away, according to a police report.
It's unclear what Ellis wanted with Brasher or how they knew each other.
Ellis and the man climbed into a black Chevy Corvette. Detectives tried to follow Ellis, but he drove away too fast and they lost him.
Eventually Ellis came back. Lampiris-Tremba saw him, his friend and a woman leaving Brasher's apartment and the complex.
Police said they checked the license plate on the Corvette and found it didn't match the car. Afraid of exposing their undercover cars as police vehicles, detectives asked officer Trey Econimidy, who was driving a marked patrol car in the area, to pull Ellis over.
The Ellis family does not believe police had a legitimate reason to stop Ellis. Motor Vehicle Division records show "there was absolutely no problem with the registration, the plates or (Ellis') license," Carpenter told the Journal.
Ellis was already pulling into the 7-11 on Eubank and Constitution when Economidy turned on his emergency lights and initiated the stop.
After Econimidy asked Ellis and his passengers to step out of the car, Ellis pointed a gun to his own head, police said.
For several minutes — some witnesses remember five, others remember 15 — a number of officers and detectives, including Lampiris-Tremba, who was taking cover behind a truck next to the Corvette, ordered Ellis to drop his gun. He refused.
According to police reports, a detective with crisis intervention training was negotiating with Ellis when Lampiris-Tremba fired one shot, striking Ellis in the neck.
More than a dozen civilian and police witnesses assumed Ellis had killed himself.
Standing about 15 feet from Ellis, Lampiris-Tremba looked to a fellow detective and said something along the lines of "Was that me? That wasn't me, was it?"
The detective told investigators he feared for the safety of his fellow officers and the handful of people in and around the convenience store.
Ellis was the second of 14 people shot by police last year. Grand juries have cleared the officers in at least three of those shootings.