Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Officer Won't Be Charged in Death

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer

A 12-member grand jury decided this week not to indict an Albuquerque police officer whose speeding patrol car struck and killed a grandmother in May.
Family members of 73-year-old Flora Aragon said Tuesday they are angry at the justice system and feel that officer Zachariah Floyd should be charged with something.
"We don't think it is right. We don't think it is fair," said Aragon's granddaughter Denise Baker. "Police officers can do whatever they want. They pretty much own our streets. If it was you or I, we would be sitting in front of a judge right now being sentenced."
On May 21, officer Floyd, 23, was responding to a domestic violence call in which a man was trying to remove a child from a home just after midnight near 53rd and Central. On the way, his car hit a block wall and went into a yard where Aragon was outside chatting with family members. The car pinned Aragon against a picnic table, killing her.
Floyd was trying to pass a truck on a two-lane street when the vehicle turned in front of him, causing the officer to swerve and lose control.
During a six-month internal affairs investigation, police determined that Floyd was driving his cruiser 43 mph in a 25-mph zone.
In January, police Chief Ray Schultz suspended Floyd for three weeks without pay for speeding and making a dangerous pass.
Deputy District Attorney Gary Cade said his office presented to the grand jury witnesses who saw what happened, and who were not police officers.
He also noted that a multi-jurisdictional team investigated the crash and rendered its findings to the grand jury.
"We presented information about what happened, and we did not attempt to shade it one way or the other," Cade said. "We presented information from almost all of the witnesses, and the grand jury made its decision and we respect that."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Deputy: Fellow Officers Raped Me

By Rozanna M. Martinez, Journal Staff Writer

State Police are investigating claims by a female Sandoval County sheriff's deputy that she was raped by other deputies at a party in December.
Sandoval County Sheriff John Paul Trujillo told the Journal on Friday he contacted State Police as soon has he received information about the alleged assault.
The incident involved off-duty sheriff's officers and occurred in December outside the sheriff's department's jurisdiction, Trujillo said.
"I had an outside source look into it so they could verify or see if there was a criminal act that took place," Trujillo said. "At this point we don't know, it's in State Police hands."
Trujillo said he could not comment further.
State Police spokesman Lt. Rick Anglada said his agency was notified by the sheriff's department Thursday and began its investigation the same day.
"We were asked to conduct an investigation on the incident that was reported internally (in the sheriff's office) through the chain of command," Anglada said. "The allegations are that a female deputy reported to them that there was some type of party in December and in it she is claiming to have been provided alcohol... She's alleged some male deputies raped her."
Anglada did not know Friday the number of deputies alleged to have been involved.
Several witnesses and suspects as well as the accuser need to be interviewed, Anglada said.
"It happened back in December, so there's obviously no physical evidence to go by," Anglada said.
Once the State Police investigation is concluded, it is expected to be turned over to the appropriate district attorney's office for possible prosecution, Anglada said.

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.

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 Montaño 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.