Cop With PTSD Killed, Grieving Family Says
ALBUQUERQUE (CN) - An Albuquerque police officer and veteran of the Afghanistan war had a "PTSD moment" and shot to death an unarmed man, the family claims in court.
The late Daniel Tillison's family sued Officer Martin Smith, Albuquerque and its Police Department, in Bernalillo County Court.
After serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, and suffering "conflict, loss of life, and other horrors of war," he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome and given a 100 percent disability rating by the Veterans Affairs Hospital, the complaint states.
Knowing that Smith suffered from severe PTSD symptoms such as flashbacks, blackouts and waking nightmares, the Albuquerque Police Department rehired him and assigned him to an area of the city known as the "War Zone," Tillison's family says in the lawsuit.
Smith "had told his fellow APD officers that he often suffered from PTSD symptoms such as flashbacks while on the job as an APD officer," the complaint states.
On March 19, 2012, Smith responded to a 911 call from an anonymous person who said that someone may have been selling stolen items out of a black SUV parked at an apartment complex.
Smith was told that the plates on the SUV had not been reported as stolen. The only information Smith had going into the situation was that a man was trying to sell a passerby stereo equipment. Smith did not confirm whether the stereo equipment was stolen, the complaint states.
Smith located the vehicle, which was occupied by Tillison. He parked behind it and approached the driver's side window of the SUV with his gun drawn, the complaint states.
Tillison's family claims that Tillison complied with Smith's order to raise his hands. Tillison was holding a black cell phone in his right hand, they say.
That's when "Smith shot Tillison during a PTSD related episode," according to the complaint.
Smith told a different story during two interviews fater the incident. The versions have some discrepancies, but Smith never said anything about having a PTSD episode during either one, according to the complaint.
Smith said that when he ordered Tillison to put his hands outside the window, Tillison started to move around a lot, reached down with his right hand and then into the back compartment area, the complaint states.
Smith claimed Tillison did not obey his command to put his hands out the window and instead began to open the door. He said Tillison then backed the SUV into Smith's vehicle and a park trucked on the other side of the SUV.
According to Smith's first interview, Tillison began to drive the SUV forward, at which point Smith shot at the tire.
"Officer Smith claims that Mr. Tillison's hand began to come up and Officer Smith saw a black object in Mr. Tillison's hand. Officer Smith stated that the object looked like a weapon. Officer Smith was five to 10 feet away from Mr. Tillison.
"Officer Smith stated that he thought Mr. Tillison was going to, 'Shoot me and take me out.' It was then that Officer Smith shot Mr. Tillison through the window," the complaint states.
Tillison died from the gunshot wound.
Smith said that the incident was not videotaped because the police department was not issuing any more cassette tapes, there was no tape in his recorder, and he did not have time to turn on his lapel camera, the complaint states.
"Officer Smith later told his co-workers that he 'blacked out' and had a 'PTSD moment' when he shot and killed Daniel Tillison," the family says.
The Police Department confirmed that the stereo equipment found in Tillison's car was not stolen. Tillison never made any verbal threats and was unarmed. Smith was not in immediate danger and did not warn Tillison before firing the fatal shot, the complaint states.
Police Chief Ray Schultz conducted an Internal Affairs investigation and concluded it was justified. Smith was not disciplined and is still an officer with the department, the complaint states.
Tillison's family seeks punitive damages for unreasonable seizure, excessive force, torts, negligent hiring, negligent assault and battery, and loss of consortium.
They are represented by Frances C. Carpenter.