Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Trial Begins In Death; Police Sued Over Shooting of Teen

Tuesday, March 6, 2007
By Carolyn Carlson
Journal Staff Writer

Attorneys in a civil wrongful death trial against two Albuquerque Police Department officers began to paint a picture of events leading up to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Eric Harrison in 2003.
"There are two sides to every story or we would not be here," Phillip A. Martinez, one of Harrison's family attorneys, said during opening statements in the federal trial.
On Nov. 29, 2003, Harrison was shot in the back by officer Matthew Thompson outside the police training academy near MontaƱo and Second Street during an altercation between Harrison and then-54-year-old Cipriano Salazar, according to police reports.
Officer Brad Ahrensfield is also named in the lawsuit.
Martinez and attorney Miguel Campos filed the lawsuit on Nov. 28, 2005, the day before the statute of limitations would have run out.
On Monday, Martinez said Harrison was a good kid who had been punched in the face by Salazar when Harrison tried to get his bicycle back from Salazar, who Harrison thought had stolen it.
"Eric grabbed the bike and they fought, but Eric never hit Cipriano," Martinez said.
He added that two eyewitnesses will testify to that as well.
Martinez said testimony will show that Thompson then held a gun to one of the eyewitnesses' head.
"Did the police act prudently and responsibly and could they have done something different?" Martinez said. That was the question the jury must ponder, he said.
Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy in her opening statements said Harrison was full of rage and fueled by alcohol and cocaine at the time.
"This case is about the one thing every officer thinks about every day. That they might have to take the life of one person to save the life of another," Levy said. "These police officers took the only actions they could take to save the life of the victim."
According to police reports, Thompson and Ahrensfield confronted Harrison and Salazar, who were fighting over a bicycle with a T-ball bat. Thompson saw Harrison beating Salazar in the head and ordered Harrison to stop, but Harrison struck Salazar again with the bat. Harrison was in a striking position when Thompson shot him, the reports said.
The lawsuit contends the officers used excessive force and were negligent and reckless. And it contends that, although Ahrensfield did not fire his weapon, he did not take any action to dissuade Thompson from firing the fatal shots.
Salazar was taken to an area hospital and was released four days later.

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