Friday, September 1, 2006

Family Seeks Money Damages From APD

By Carolyn Carlson, Journal Staff Writer

The family of a 17-year-old who was shot and killed by Albuquerque Police Department officers in 2003 is seeking monetary damages from the city and the officers.
On Nov. 29, 2003, Eric Harrison was shot in the back by Officer Matthew Thompson outside the police training academy near Montaño and Second Street during an altercation between Harrison and then-54-year-old Cipriano Salazar.
A police spokesman at the time said the officers were leaving a training session at the academy when they saw a beating in progress. They ordered Harrison to drop a baseball bat he was using to hit Salazar. Harrison refused and raised the bat to strike again, the spokesman said.
The wrongful death lawsuit was filed on Nov. 28, 2005, the day before the statute of limitations would have run out, according to attorney Miguel Campos.
Campos and attorney Phillip A. Martinez are representing Maria E. Chávez, who had raised Harrison since he was a toddler.
According to court documents, Campos and Martinez contend Thompson and Brad Ahrensfield confronted Harrison and Salazar, who were involved in the altercation over a T-ball bat.
"One of the officers without adequate warning opened fire upon (Harrison) shooting him twice in the back causing fatal injuries," the lawsuit says.
Campos and Martinez said officers used excessive force and were negligent and reckless.
"It is sad all the way around," Campos said Thursday. He declined to comment further.
Court documents say Ahrensfield did not fire his gun.
Campos and Martinez say in the lawsuit that even though he did not fire his gun, Ahrensfield did not take any action, verbal or physical, to dissuade Thompson from firing the fatal shots. Nor did Ahrensfield warn Harrison that shots were going to be fired.
City attorneys Robert M. White and Kathryn Levy said in court documents that Thompson saw Harrison beating Salazar in the head with a baseball bat. Thompson ordered Harrison to stop but Harrison struck Salazar a second time with the bat. Harrison was in a striking position when Thompson shot Harrison.
They say the actions taken by Thompson saved Salazar from further serious injury or even death and were in full compliance with standard and acceptable police procedures, the city's response to the lawsuit said.
Salazar was taken to an area hospital and was released four days later.
"The city will defend its actions in the lawsuit," White said Thursday.
At the time of the shooting, Harrison's family said the shooting was a tragedy beyond belief.
Frank Chávez, Harrison's uncle, has said his nephew was a good kid and had never been in trouble. Chávez has said he and his mother, Maria, raised Harrison since he was a toddler because both of his parents were in prison.
"This has devastated our family," Chávez said at the time. "The police could have handled this differently. He was just a little guy. Two big cops could have taken him down."
Chávez said his nephew was about 5-foot-5 and weighed only about 130 pounds.
The lawsuit asks for damages to be determined at trial. The case is currently set for a March 2007 trial date.