Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Eyewitness Testimony Conflicting

By Carolyn Carlson, Journal Staff Writer

Jurors heard conflicting testimony between eyewitnesses in a civil wrongful death trial against two Albuquerque Police Department officers in the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old.
On Nov. 29, 2003, Eric Harrison was shot in the back by officer Matthew Thompson outside the police training academy near Montaño and Second NW during an incident between Harrison and then-54-year-old Cipriano Salazar, according to police reports.
The lawsuit contends the officers used excessive force and were negligent and reckless.
Officer Brad Ahrensfield was named in the lawsuit along with the city and Thompson. But after the plaintiffs rested their case Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge James Parker dismissed Ahrensfield from the lawsuit saying there had not been any evidence to show Ahrensfield breached his duty as an officer.
Plaintiffs attorneys Miguel Campos and Phillip A. Martinez claimed that while Ahrensfield did not fire his weapon, he 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.
Parker also dismissed the city from the claim saying the plaintiffs did not present any evidence the officers were not properly trained. Parker also dismissed punitive damages from the claim saying there had not been any evidence presented showing the officers were reckless or negligent.

Honor roll
Martinez and Campos put Harrison's mother, Maria E. Chavez, on the stand. Chavez testified she was in prison at the time of her son's death. She said her son was on the honor roll in middle school and was chosen to go to Washington, D.C., because he was on the honor roll and because he was a good student.
"When Mr. Thompson took my son he took a part of my heart," Chavez said through tears.
During cross examination, Levy brought out that Harrison actually spent little time being raised by Chavez. Instead, Harrison lived with Chavez's mother, an aunt and her brother or sister. Chavez testified she was a crack addict and stole to support her habit before going to prison. Chavez was released from prison in January 2005.
"The most consistent role model mother was your mother, right?" Levy asked.
"Yes, I wanted him to be where he was well taken care of," Chavez said.
Chavez said Harrison would live with her on and off depending on how stable she was.
Along with Harrison, Chavez has three other sons younger than Harrison and from a different father.
Harrison's father spent 16 years in prison and did not have any contact with his son after he was released, Chavez said.
Chavez said Harrison dropped out of high school in the 10th grade when she moved to a different school district.
The eyewitness testimony was from two women who gave Harrison a ride so he could follow Salazar to get his bicycle back. The two eyewitnesses and Harrison followed Salazar to APD's Valley substation and training center parking lot, near the Montaño and Second Street intersection, where the shooting occurred.
Testimony from the first witness, Letisha Gonzales, was a reading of transcripts from her October 2006 deposition. Campos said they were unable to locate Gonzales for the trial.
The second eyewitness to testify was Janice Martinez Crawford. Crawford was sentenced to 18 years in prison last week in Bernalillo County District Court after being convicted of multiple counts of trafficking crack cocaine.
Gonzales testified she and Crawford went to the Walgreens at Fourth and Montaño on Nov. 29, 2003, to pick up some items for dinner. Gonzales said she saw Salazar hit Harrison in the face in the store's parking lot. She said she and Crawford gave Harrison a ride so he could follow Salazar. She said she believed Salazar had stolen Harrison's bike. She said they followed Salazar to the parking lot of APD's Valley substation and training academy. She said she never saw Harrison strike Salazar with the T-ball bat. She said Harrison did not even have the bat in his hand when he was shot. She also said that after she saw Harrison get shot she jumped out of Crawford's truck and ran towards the officer who shot Harrison. She said she was yelling "Why, why did you have to shoot him?" She said the officer then pointed a gun to her head and told her that for her "own good" she should not tell anyone anything about this incident.

Conflicting tales
Crawford's testimony differed. She testified that while waiting in the Walgreens parking lot she saw Salazar get on a bicycle and Harrison tell Salazar to give him back his bicycle.
"The older man pushed the child to the ground and the back tire ran over the child's ankle," Crawford said.
She said Harrison chased Salazar out of the parking lot on foot when she stopped her truck and asked Harrison if he needed help. She said Harrison jumped in the bed of the truck and they followed Salazar. They lost sight of him at one point but saw him again at the APD parking lot. She said she drove to the parking lot and Harrison jumped out of the truck with her son's T-ball bat that was in the bed. She said Harrison followed Salazar to the doors of the training center.
"Eric had hit him and was getting ready to hit him again when I heard shots being fired," Crawford said.
Crawford said to the best of her memory, Gonzales did not get out of the truck until officers told them to get on the ground. She did say officers had their guns drawn and pointed at them until she and Gonzales were handcuffed. She said they were unhandcuffed when officers took them, separately, into the Valley substation for questioning.
Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy while cross examining Crawford brought out that in a prior statement Crawford said Harrison was "raging mad" when he jumped out of her truck to go after Salazar with the T-ball bat.
She said she did not remember many of the details from that day because it was so long ago.
Levy reaffirmed through her cross examination that Crawford saw Harrison with the bat raised and ready to strike again when Thompson fired his gun.
After the shooting, Salazar was taken to a hospital and was released four days later.
The plaintiffs rested their case after Crawford's testimony.
Levy put Thompson on the stand as the defense's first witness.
Thompson said he confronted the situation on Nov. 29, 2003, when he was leaving APD's training center after SWAT training. At first when he saw an older man on a bicycle being followed by the truck with Harrison in the back he thought it was a police cadet training exercise.
When he realized it was not, he went over to where he saw Harrison hitting Salazar with the bat.
Thompson said he heard Harrison tell Salazar, "Do you think the cops will be able to help you?"
Thompson said he gave several clear commands to Harrison to stop what he was doing. He said he saw Harrison strike Salazar twice with the bat and raise it a third time when he fired two shots hitting Harrison.
"I believed the male with the bat was about to murder the victim on the ground," Thompson said. "I had no other choice."
He testified that police officers are trained to use deadly force if they feel their life or the life of another is being threatened.
The defense continues today, and the jury is expected to get the case by midafternoon.

No comments: