ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A District Court jury Thursday heard two very different versions of what happened in 2010 when an Albuquerque police officer shot and killed Iraqi War veteran Kenneth Ellis.
The judge hearing the lawsuit filed by Ellis' family has already ruled the killing to be unconstitutional leaving the jury to decide if the city is liable and if so how much it should pay in damages.
Ellis' attorney tried to paint Ellis as a veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder who only wanted to hurt himself. Attorney Shannon Kennedy told the jury how Ellis pointed the gun to his own head and paced while officers surrounded him outside a Northeast Heights convenience store.
Nine minutes into the standoff Officer Brett Lampiris-Tremba shot Ellis. Kennedy claimed it happened suddenly just as crisis negotiators were starting to talk to Ellis.
"(They were telling him) just put down the gun, then boom," Kennedy told the jury. "All of a sudden people heard shots. Brett Lampiris-Tremba's first reaction was, 'Was that me?'"
Ellis' attorneys argue Lampiris-Tremba never should have been hired because he lied on his application and admitted to committing crimes, including embezzlement, eluding, graffiti and theft.
Kathy Levy, the city's attorney, explained to the jury they were all petty crimes committed during Lampiris-Tremba's youth.
"He grew up and became a police officer," Levy said. "He's not a bad officer. He's not a bad man."
Levy described a volatile the situation that day with people shouting "Gun. He has a gun." She also said officers didn't know that Ellis had PTSD or was a veteran.
They did know that he was high on drugs, something Ellis admitted to officers when they questioned his erratic behavior.
The officer who initially pulled Ellis over, Trey Economidy, was the first witness to take the stand. He said he stopped Ellis out of suspicion he was driving a stolen car.
His testimony backed up the claims by the city that Ellis did pose a threat, not just to officers but the many bystanders around that day.
When asked by Ellis' attorney if Economidy would agree with her that the gun never left Ellis' head, Economidy said, "No. It left his head several times."
Lampiris-Tremba is expected to take the stand on Friday.
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