By DAVID CORREIA
An Albuquerque jury awarded the family of Iraq War veteran Kenneth Ellis III more than $10 million in a civil case brought against the City of Albuquerque and Albuquerque police officer Brett Lampiris-Tremba, who shot Ellis in the neck in January of 2010. State Judge Shannon Bacon had allowed the suit to go forward after finding last month that Lampiris-Tremba’s use of force was unreasonable. In her decision Judge Bacon set aside APD’s own internal investigation, which had earlier and controversially exonerated Lampiris-Tremba of wrongdoing.
As La Jicarita previously reported, even before the shooting Lampiris-Tremba had a spotty record with APD. He had been previously suspended for lying during an investigation; he once accidentally fired his weapon in the APD Southeast Substation and he Tasered a motorist during a routine traffic stop. The jury awarded Kenneth Ellis’s family $2.7 million in punitive damages against Lampiris-Tremba and damages of $7.6 million against the city.
In separate but related news, the chief of the Albuquerque Police Department, Ray Schultz, resigned Friday soon after the jury announced its verdict. Under Schultz’s leadership APD had been under almost continuous fire from critics of the department’s frequent use of deadly force. Though Schultz has been under fire, it has been nothing like the citizens of Albuquerque, many of whom have literally been in the crosshairs of officers like Lampiris-Tremba. Since 2010 APD officers have killed 18 people in 27 different shootings.
In addition to the use of deadly force, currently under investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice on “allegations that APD officers engage in use of excessive force, including use of unreasonable deadly force, in their encounters with civilians,” the department has a long history of police brutality that includes a recent pattern of violent posturing and behavior.
APD officer Trey Economidy was suspended in 2010 after he posted his job description on Facebook as “human waste disposal.” Detective Jim Dwyer was disciplined after he listed his occupation as “oxygen thief removal technician” on his MySpace page. On May 31, 2010 APD Officer Connor Rice was caught on tape beating a man in the chest as APD Officer Ronald Surran pointed a gun at the suspect while stomping the man’s head. All the while the suspect was yelling, “I surrender.” Surran and Rice then celebrated the arrest with high-fives. Former APD officer Levi Chavez, accused of killing his girlfriend in 2007, allegedly stole drugs from suspects with other APD officers and resold them to other drug dealers. APD officers Robert Woolever and John Doyle where fired only after security videos captured them chest-bumping after viciously beating Nicholas Blume during a February 2011 arrest. Former APD union boss Joey Sigala, who came under fire in March of this year after creating a cash payout program to officers involved in fatal shootings—a program some critics of APD, including families of the victims of APD violence, said amounted to a reward for police violence—was fired and accused in May of beating up his girlfriend and stealing money from her EBT card. And in June of 2012, the Albuquerque Journal reported that for the past two decades an APD gang unit has been using a noose as its symbol.
Despite this pattern, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry refused to fire Schultz. Support for Schultz among elected officials, however, began to erode in recent days. Albuquerque City Council President Dan Lewis told the Albuquerque Journal this week that Schultz needed to resign. Lewis, a Republican, was joined by Councilor Isaac Benton, a Democrat, in demanding the resignation.
Schultz did just that late Friday morning with a letter of resignation delivered to Robert Perry, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer that made no mention of the now four-month investigation of Schultz and APD by the DOJ, the jury award in the Ellis case, or the recent call for his resignation.
We can expect media coverage of this story to focus on a few government decision-makers, leaving the moral and political force of persistent community activism out of the equation. How this issue has developed, with attention to the community outcry that has kept it on the politicians’ agendas, can be found in our continuing coverage that began more than one year ago: “APD KILLS TWO MORE THIS WEEK, LA JICARITA WEIGHS IN,” “Photo essay: relatives, citizens address City Council on APD killings,” “APD Finds New Way to Kill People,” “Albuquerque Police Department Goes Boom,” “Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz All But Admits: ‘I’m clueless’,” “Protestors Rally Against Albuquerque Police Violence: A Photo Essay ,” “US DOJ to Investigate Albuquerque Police Department,” and “Albuquerque Police Department Killings Continue.”