By Tracy Record & Katie Meyer
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
For the first time in the two weeks a King County Superior Court jury has spent hearing the case in the second-degree-murder trial of Lovett “Cid” Chambers, they have heard his voice.
As is standard in a criminal trial, the defendant is in the courtroom for all on-the-record proceedings, so the 15 jurors (including three alternates) have seen Chambers (at right, WSB courthouse-hallway photo from Wednesday) day in and day out. But he has not been on the witness stand. Thursday afternoon, before the trial went into recess until Monday (March 10th), prosecutors played parts of the video recording made during the hours he spent in a Seattle Police interview room – sometimes alone, sometimes with SPD personnel – after the January 21, 2012, shooting by Morgan Junction Park that left 35-year-old Travis Hood dead.
The video playback came while Detective Cloyd Steiger was on the witness stand. It happened in two somewhat lengthy stretches – the first was mostly quiet, in which Chambers appeared to be resting on a chair in the corner. (The jury watched on the wide-screen monitor used to show evidence; the defense, and gallery, were in view of a laptop screen from which the video was being played back.)
The clip was started with a time stamp just past 12:20. A table and red chair were visible; two people came into view. One was Chambers; the other asked him how much he had had to drink that night, and he did not answer. The video was basically quiet for a long time; what sounded like throat-clearing was heard off-screen.
Prosecutor Mari Isaacson questioned Det. Steiger about who had been seen on screen; he said another detective and a patrol officer – he himself had not seen Chambers yet by then, he was still interviewing Chambers’s wife.
The video was advanced to 1:54 am and played for about 10 minutes, with nothing much visible or audible on the screen we were viewing – there were some nonverbal sounds, including a few pounding or slamming-type noises. After pausing the video at 2:05 am, Isaacson said it seemed as if Chambers had awakened and was “knocking.” Steiger said he wasn’t aware of that.
She forwarded to 3:03 am. Shortly after that, SPD personnel arrived: “Cid, stand up for a second,” one said. “We’re going to Harborview.”
“We’re going to draw your blood. … How are you feeling?”
“I feel all right,” Chambers was heard to say. “How about you?”
Someone out of view of the camera was heard directing him out of the door, and then shortly afterward, they were out of earshot. Pausing the video, Isaacson resumed questioning Steiger, who said he was with Chambers and Det. Jason Kasner, headed to Harborview in an unmarked car. Detective cars, including his, did not have video-recording systems, he confirmed. After drawing blood from Chambers, he testified, “then we were going to book him into jail.”
He said Chambers was in “soft restraints – leather with sheepskin inside” when the blood was taken, in police presence, by a Harborview nurse. As they then left the hospital with him, Det. Steiger was asked, what was Chambers’s demeanor?
“He seemed more alert, seemed he had sobered up considerably, started saying things about not remembering what happened, as we were walking down the ramp …” As they arrived at the downtown jail, the detective said, Chambers was “alert, not uncooperative.” It was in the jail’s “sally port” – secure entrance – that Steiger recalled Chambers saying he wanted to see a picture of Hood.
“Did you make any gesture to get him to talk to you, any sort of threat, did Det. Kasner?” asked Isaacson.
“Did it appear he wanted to talk to you?”
At the afternoon break, defense lawyer Ben Goldsmith raised a concern about what Steiger might say if the line of questioning continued, possibly in violation of a pretrial ruling about what could be brought in and what couldn’t. The discussion included disagreement over what’s hearsay and what’s not.
When court resumed for the final segment of the day, part of the video-recorded interview with Chambers, after he was brought back to the interview room at police headquarters, was played. The judge told the jury that some of the recording had been edited “for legal reasons” and warned them not to “draw any inferences” regarding any edit they might notice.
The video picked up after 4 am. Chambers was heard swearing to himself twice before a detective returned and asked him about his wrist, whether he wanted a snack or some water. He said he’d like the latter, and then went out of the room for a bathroom break. When he returned, two detectives began questioning him, starting with his name, his birthdate, his home address. One detective read him his Miranda rights, somewhat quickly. They ask where he had gone that night – to the Feedback, he answered (subsequently mispronounced by the police as “Feedbag”) – and what he was drinking (“martinis”).
That’s when Chambers interrupted the line of questioning to say, “What the f— happened?”
Police: “Well, that’s what we’re trying to find out.” They established that he remembered being at the bar, and that he kept his .45-caliber pistol in his car, and that it was not on his person when he was in the bar. “So at some point you went to your car and got your gun?”
“No,” Chambers replied.
“Then how did your gun get from the car, to you?”
“I left the bar to go home …”
He repeated that he was getting into his car, parked on California, “right in front of the Beveridge Place (Pub).”
They asked what kind of gun – Colt .45 – where he kept it in the car – usually the glove compartment or under the passenger seat – and around that point, Chambers said again, “I don’t remember anything.”
They talked to him about having been there with a friend named Pierre, whose call led Chambers to reconsider leaving the Feedback. After Pierre arrived, he said, “I was talking to my friends Drew and Pierre … we’re sitting there just bullsh***ing … Pierre said, ‘I’ll buy you a drink … I finished the drink …”
Police: “Then what happened?”
Chambers: “I don’t f***ing know!”
“Have you ever blacked out before?”
“You think you have a drinking problem?”
“I’m just trying to figure out how you could not know what happened.”
“I can’t figure out what happened.”
“Tell us what you do remember.”
He said he recalled someone saying they’d see him there the next day for a charity-benefit auction, and then he walked out to his car.
Police: “Then what hapepned?”
Chambers: “I’m telling you, I don’t f***ing know. … I don’t know what else happened inbetween there.”
“You just blacked out?”
By that point he was close to shouting. He said he did remember getting into his car.
“Any trouble when you were getting into your car?”
“I don’t know, I really don’t know, and that’s why I said, ‘who are these motherf***ers, show me their picture, I’ve never seen them before’.”
He was asked if he had ever been treated for mental illness. He said no. And then: “Only thing I can think of, these guys, whomever they were, they would have had to have made a move of aggression on me …”
And that’s when the jury was dismissed for the day. Afterward, Judge Theresa Doyle and the lawyers went back to the matter that had erupted on Wednesday, regarding the defense objecting to the prosecution having not told them that SPD CSI Detective Kim Biggs had been asked to go back recently to re-examine Chambers’s car (still in the SPD holding area) to see if its lock button worked. Judge Doyle had already denied the defense’s motion for a mistrial, and now said she would deny their alternate request to ask the jury to ignore Biggs’s testimony: “Suppression would be extraordinary.” With the trial continuing for weeks to come, she said, the defense still had time to get an expert to talk to about “BMWs of that vintage.”
The end-of-day discussion was a continuation of how Thursday began, and Wednesday ended. On Thursday morning, before the jury was brought in for the day, the defense’s argument on the point had focused on doubts that recent results could be applied to how the car did or did not work on the night of the shooting, for reasons including that year’s BMWs having “a lot of glitches and problems, so leaving it unused for two years could have caused problems in itself.”
Prosecutors contended Thursday morning that the defense had had ample time to examine the locks “to support their defendant’s story/theory” but hadn’t done so when they checked out the car in 2012. They suggested it “strains credulity that a car that has been sitting for two years now has functioning locks” if it didn’t when impounded two years earlier.
The defense countered that there was no way to know how the car had been affected by Detective Biggs having had its battery charged in order to check this. The lock problem “is one of Mr. Chambers’s cornerstones in his defense,” Goldsmith said.
Prosecutor Margaret Nave said, “All that Biggs did was put the car on a charger, then sat in the car, tried to turn the key to use the locks, then pushed the button to lock the door from inside while the key was in the ignition.”
Judge Doyle said Goldsmith could cross-examine Biggs at a later time, given everything that had come up, but that the detective would return to the stand for the conclusion of direct questioning by prosecutors.
So that is how Thursday morning began for the jurors, with the remainder of Biggs’ initial testimony, which was brief, confirming that she had taken measurements at the crime scene and that she had seen an ammunition magazine at the Chambers home.
She was followed by Detective Don Ledbetter, also of the SPD CSI unit, also called in to work the night of the shooting. He testified that he took photos of the scene and did the scene map documenting the evidence, using a “total station” – a device that can measure distance, planes, and angles; surveyors use it. He said he created and teaches a course for other SPD employees in how to use it. With the jury seeing a photo of it at the scene, he explained to them that it can spin horizontally and vertically to “generate an electronic map” superior to past mapping done with tape measures – more distance, more accuracy, etc.
He also spoke of the evidence components that others had mentioned in previous testimony – the bullet placards, the shovel, blood at the scene; a limited search of the Chambers home. In cross-examination, Det. Ledbetter clarified that his role wasn’t to write reports, but to provide information for the “primary” – Det. Biggs, on that night. He recalled only speaking with fellow police at the scene. Ledbetter was asked by Goldsmith about the location of the placards marking casings: “The locations … on the map shows where they were when you saw them. And ostensibly, where they landed when they were fired. But you don’t know if they could have been moved or not before you were there. Assuming they weren’t moved, the person doing the shooting was very close to those casings, but you can’t say with specificity as to where exactly the person was standing, or if they were moving.”
Ledbetter’s reply: “Correct.” He also was asked to confirm that the distance from placard #4 to the shovel was about 10 feet, and that it was 13 to 14 feet from the shovel to placard #3.
In re-direct questioning by the prosecution, Ledbetter said there’s great variety in how far casings would go from a shooter, depending on factors such as the model of the gun and how it’s being held, so, there was no clear way to “definitively show on the map exactly where the shooter would have been standing.”
Then Detective Steiger was called to the witness stand.
Questioned by prosecutor Isaacson, he went through his background, including that he now teaches interview/interrogation to officers. Asked about his own techniques, he said, “I don’t come in with a script that I’m going to follow … I decide on the fly how this interview will go. I always sit on the same side of the table as the person I’m speaking with; I decide whether to increase the pressure or lower the pressure, how to steer someone back to the topic they’re speaking about, it’s an art, not a science at all. … The goal is to find out what the truth is, and that’s all.”
The night of the shooting, he was on call as a standby detective, with partner Det. Jason Kasner. They arrived in Morgan Junction at the same time and walked around looking at the scene and talking with officers. When they found out a suspect was in custody, they asked that he be brought to the Homicide office on the seventh floor of SPD headquarters downtown. At HQ, he said, he first spoke with Sara Chambers in an interview room, for about 20 minutes. He described her demeanor as “calm, cooperative, and I would describe it as a state of mild shock.” He said that when he first saw Lovett Chambers, “I thought he was too intoxicated at the time to interview. … When I say intoxicated, I say blotto’ed, basically, lethargic, slurring, not walking that steadily when I saw him, sat in chair and appeared to be falling asleep, that sort of thing. We placed him in that room to hold him there while we were preparing, other work to do, he appeared so intoxicated to ME that I called the sergeant and asked that a blood draw be included on search warrant, so we could take him to hospital draw his blood and tell exactly what his level of intoxication is.”
And that’s where the trial broke for lunch – followed by Steiger’s continued testimony (earlier in this report), including playback of the video of Chambers in Interview Room #1, which is also where they’ll pick back up Monday morning.
Trial report, Wednesday 3/5/2014 (Defense protests surprise, calls for mistrial)
Trial report, Tuesday 3/4/2014 (‘Police and a passerby’)
Trial report, Monday 3/3/2014 (‘Back to the background’)
Trial report, Thursday 2/27/2014 (Jamie Vause’s second & final day on the stand)
Trial report, Wednesday 2/26/2014 (Jamie Vause’s first day on the stand)
Trial report, Tuesday 2/25/2014 (DNA analysis, police)
Trial report, Monday 2/24/2014 (5 more witnesses)
Trial report, Thursday 2/20/14 (first witnesses)
Trial report, Wednesday 2/19/14 (opening statements)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to WSB editorial-team member Katie Meyer for covering the Thursday morning trial session while editor Tracy Record attended to a long-previously-scheduled commitment (over in time to return to court before the lunch break ended).