By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
What Monday’s only witness at the Morgan Junction murder trial explained as a police interrogation tactic was on display, raw, in video shown to jurors.
It was a continuation of the video playback begun on Thursday afternoon, from defendant Lovett “Cid” Chambers‘s session with police in a downtown interview room in the early morning of January 22, 2012, hours after he fired the shots that killed Travis Hood (photo at right).
A shouting crescendo eventually was reached through both Chambers’ professed inability to remember exactly why he fired those shots and detectives’ insistence that his memory lapse was manufactured.
That dominated the day, which began with one juror leaving the trial.
King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle had to decide whether to grant the juror’s request to leave. He was called into the courtroom to elaborate on the request conveyed to her.
While he told his employer he would have to serve four to eight weeks, he had since learned they would only pay his salary for three weeks, and that would be a financial hardship for him.
The judge made sure he understood he could not be fired for serving, however long it took. And then she had to ask personal questions, in open court, the rest of us listening: How much does he make? How much does his spouse make? Is he supporting children? Would this render him unable to make his mortgage payment?
The trial probably only has another month to go, she said, before sending him back to the jury room and asking the two sets of lawyers for their thoughts. The defense worried that if he were ordered to stay on, he would have trouble concentrating through serious fiscal woes; prosecutors worried that others might be in similar straits and would make the same request.
Judge Doyle decided to let him go. That meant one of the three alternate jurors would become an official juror.
After a few other bits of business were brought up – including a mention that defense lawyers Ben Goldsmith and Lauren McLane had gone with Seattle Police Homicide Detective Tim DeVore – who has been in the courtroom throughout the trial – to see Chambers’ impounded BMW, subject of last week’s testimony controversy – it was time for more testimony.
Homicide Det. Cloyd Steiger was still on the stand, still undergoing direct examination by prosecutor Mari Isaacson. She immediately resumed playback of video from his questioning (with partner Det. Jason Kasner) of defendant Chambers, hours after Travis Hood was shot by Morgan Junction Park .
Chambers had asked to see a photo of Hood. “Never saw him before, never seen him at all,” he told the detectives.
“Well, that’s the guy you shot … do you remember getting back in car and driving home?”
“Do you remember having the gun in your hand?”
The detectives pointed out he was identified by people in the bar where he had been drinking. “Everybody knows you there.” Then – “.45 shell casings were left at the scene … your gun is at your house, it’s going to be ballistically matched… doesn’t sound like any question you shot him… nobody stole your gun and gave it back to you afterward, there’s no question you shot him, the question is why you shot him.”
Chambers: “He was f—ing with me.”
Steiger: “You think he was f’ing with you?
The camera showed Chambers across from Det. Kasner, with Steiger at the head of the small table. The detectives switched to asking him about leaving his car, and where it was parked, making a sketch of the scene.
“There were two guys involved,” Chambers interjected. “I remember now.”
“They were f—ing with me.”
“How were they f—ing with you?”
“They were … trailing me to my car and talking sh-t to me … and … there were two guys.”
“What were they saying to you?”
“They were calling me names and stuff.”
“I have no f—ing idea. … They were following me … not from Feedback, right from the corner … they were following me.”
But he continued insisting he didn’t know why, recalling only that they were “talking sh-t” including something “racial.”
Steiger continued suggesting he was skeptical that Chambers couldn’t recall more. “It was a pretty significant event, should be pretty clear to you what happened … because it’s not like this happens every day … You say you don’t black out from drinking … how can you not know what happened?”
“I know there were two guys f—ing with me,” Chambers repeated.
“For what reason, what did they say?”
“No idea, I’ve never seen them before in my life.” He said they tried to get into his car. But that’s not where the shooting happened, the detectives pressed: “You fired the gun way the hell down here, by the backhoe [parked alongside the park], how the hell did that happen … you had to follow them there … you didn’t fire your gun anywhere near your car .. you had to follow them all the way up by the backhoe … so either you’re lying to me …”
“No,” Chambers protested.
“So tell me what happened!” Steiger demanded. “But don’t insult our intelligence by saying two guys were f—ing with you, then ‘I don’t remember what happened’.”
“Those guys attacked me, they attacked me at my car.”
“When you say ‘attacked’, describe their activities.”
“They were trying to get into the car with me … I got into the driver side, they tried to get into the passenger side …”
Yet again, Chambers said he didn’t remember what happened after that, only that the two men tried to get into his car.
“Instead of driving away or calling police, you pulled out a gun and you obviously followed them way down the street before you shot one of them four times in the chest … It didn’t happen inside your car, it was, what, 50 or 70 feet down the street … I think you’re bullsh–ting me by not remembering this.”
“I don’t have any reason to bulls–t you.”
The back-and-forth grew ever more confrontational as the detectives continued to press Chambers for further details.
“They started attacking me verbally from the moment I went out of the Feedback and then they tried to get into my car with me.”
“Did you call 9-1-1?”
“No, I didn’t call 9-1-1! These motherf—ers were attacking me right there!”
As the tone grew more adversarial, Steiger switched his line of questioning: “Why is the car registered to Cidrick Mann? Is that you too?”
Chambers tried to call that “irrelevant.” The detective expressed suspicion “about who you really are.”
“I am who you are looking at right now … That (name) has no f—ing significance to …”
“… What does that say about who you really are? You have two names.”
“Who in the f— do you think you’re looking at?”
“You tell me.”
“If you don’t know who the f— you’re looking at right now …”
“You said Lovett Chambers … how about Cidrick Mann, who is that?”
“I just told you that, Lovett James Chambers and Cid Mann are the same people.”
The detectives abruptly switched the topic back to what preceded the shooting, and what the two men were doing at Chambers’s car. He said that when the key opens the door of the car, “it opens up all the locks.” But, he said, they didn’t actually get into the car. “They opened the door. I got out.”
“Did you have the gun in your hand when you got out?”
“I must have.”
“Now you suddenly remember that part! You’re giving me a little at a time.”
Chambers said he couldn’t have driven away “because they were right there in my f—ing car.”
“So they DID get into your car.”
The detectives continued trying to pull out details of exactly what was happening at the car and why Chambers didn’t just drive away. “What was physically keeping you there?”
“They were threatening me.”
“Did you see a weapon?”
“It was the way they were acting, the way they were talking.”
“Did they ask you for anything, were they trying to rob you?”
“They were upset with me because of who I was.”
“I have no f—ing idea. … Did you talk to (Hood’s) buddy? What did his buddy say?”
“We’re not talking about what other people said … we just ask what you know, what you saw; what he saw doesn’t matter.”
Back to the car; back to Chambers saying he didn’t remember.
Steiger: “You know why you don’t remember? Because it’s hard to remember the lies you told before.”
Chambers: “Look, I’m not telling you any f—ing lies, I don’t have any lies to tell. … I know one f—in’ thing, this is pretty clear – I left the Feedback to go to my car to go home, and between the Feedback and my car [parked in front of Beveridge Place Pub], these clowns were f—ing with me. I opened my car up and they tried to get in the car.”
“You don’t remember grabbing your gun.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“… So you pulled out your gun and shot this one guy. Forensically it’s going to be matched to your gun, which we found at your house. It seems pretty clear you shot him. Seem pretty clear to you?”
“I’ve been living on the west side for 20 years …”
“You mean West Seattle?”
“Yeah. Friends know me … I don’t have to chase (people) down the street …”
“Apparently you did. …”
“I went to get into the car to drive home and these sons of bitches attacked me … Sticks and stones don’t bother me, I’ll get in my car and drive away, but if you try to get in my car …”
“Did they physically hit you, brandish a weapon of any kind?”
“I thought they had a knife, because of conversations they were having.”
“It’s not like you shot htem when you were getting attacked. You followed them. You were pissed. Pissed that these guys were f—ing with you, isn’t that right?”
“You pulled the gun, they probably ran?”
“I don’t remember what the f— happened.”
“I’m not asking for minutiae – I’m just asking for the big picture.”
“I’ve already told you what I remember.”
Steiger told Chambers it was “absolute bulls–t” that he claimed not to remember and kept on the point that the shooting didn’t happen at his car. “It was 50 or 70 feet down the street, casings don’t fly that far, there’s blood, a spent bullet … they didn’t magically transport themselves (that far), it didn’t happen right there by your car.”
“The f—ing attack happened right there at my car.”
“That’s not where the shooting happened … you had to chase them down the street and shoot (Hood). … You watch ‘CSI,’ right? Your gun’s being matched. It’s going to (be matched) to the exclusion of every gun on planet earth.”
A moment later, Steiger escalates to shouting, again calling Chambers’s story “bulls–t.”
“Why would I come out of a bar and chase two mother f—ers down the street?” Chambers countered. “Why would I do that?”
Steiger shouted, “Why in the f— would you do that?” Maybe the “other guys started it,” but why, he continued asking, did he shoot?
“They were trying to break into my car with me in there,” Chambers repeated.
“They didn’t break a window, did they?”
“The door was open; how many times do I have to say that?”
“Until you tell the God-damned truth. … Earlier you said the door was locked, they couldn’t get in … this is all being recorded.” (Steiger made that last point multiple times during the exchange shown on the video.)
The detectives switched gears again. “Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt; let’s say everything you said is true. Let’s move on to what happened down the road. … If you swear you’re telling the truth from now on, if you’re telling us everything that happened at the car is true, tell us what happened after that.”
“I don’t remember.”
“So you went home, poured yourself a glass of white wine …”
“I am Lovett James Chambers, and I am also Cidrick Mann.”
“Legally, you’re only one of them.”
“I am both.”
“I realize you are the embodiment of people using two identities – legally you’re only one of them. … OK, so we’re going to give the benefit of the doubt, assume everything you’ve told us is true, though you’ve changed your story.”
He denied changing his story, but noted he had “had a lot to drink, you know.”
At that point the detectives got up and left the room. The video continued to play in the courtroom, jurors watching the big screen, lawyers and gallery in view of a much-smaller laptop screen, until someone came in and said something too quiet to hear, and Chambers walked out of view.
The jurors had been given typed transcripts to follow along; after the video was stopped, Isaacson collected them and resumed questioning Steiger, asking him to explain why he and his partner were so confrontational.
“Different interviews go differently – sometimes you decide you want to raise the pressure, sometimes decrease the pressure, depending on what you think is more effective. In this case, we opted to raise the pressure.”
He said Chambers had never said he wanted to not talk to him, or stop talking to him, but if he had, that request would have been honored. And if he had complained of pain in his wrist, “we would have looked to see .. of course handcuffs are never comfortable.” He said he hadn’t seen any injuries on Chambers, “but I didn’t inspect his body closely.”
Also elicited, how long he was at the crime scene – maybe half an hour tops. But processing the crime scene isn’t his job; “other people” do that. “My job is to go interview the suspect if no one else is doing that.”
Starting cross-examination, defense lawyer Goldsmith brought out that Steiger’s role in the case involved that visit, the interview with Chambers, and also an interview with Sara Chambers – no canvassing for witnesses, no reviewing Hood or Vause’s criminal backgrounds. Though the interview with Chambers’s wife was video- and audio-recorded, it “was not downloaded from the system,” Goldsmith points out, and after about a month, the recording was written over.
Goldsmith walked through the timeline after Chambers’ arrest, which was about an hour after the shooting. He was first taken to the Southwest Precinct, and then around 12:30 am, to the interview room at headquarters downtown.
“He never told you didn’t want to talk?”
“He didn’t tell ME …”
“At some other point, he invoked his right not to talk, at the scene?”
“I wasn’t there.”
“When you were going up to Harborview [for the blood draw] he said he didn’t want to talk.”
“I believe that’s true.”
Goldsmith asked Steiger to describe Chambers’s condition upon arrival at the interview room. “He was very intoxicated when he got there. He was lethargic, slurred, very drunk; you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see when somebody’s very drunk.” However, the detective acknowledged, Chambers wasn’t “stumbling” or “falling-down” drunk, saying those are just phrases.
“Regarding lethargic, you brought him in at 12:30 am, had him there until 5:17,” Goldsmith said. “You didn’t interrogate him immediately … Prior to interrogation, you found out he had an alias. So you knew that. You asked him about it around 4:42 in the morning.”
He continued to press the issue of when and where Chambers had been read his Miranda rights (the right to remain silent, etc.), including at some point when he was first arrested by other SPD personnel. He read from the report Steiger had written about that night, looking for the point where Chambers started talking, despite having said earlier in the night that he didn’t want to – it was after the Harborview visit.
Again, Goldsmith stressed, Chambers was put in a questioning room at 12:28 am, taken out at 3:06 am for the trip to Harborview. “He hasn’t been allowed to speak to an attorney?” He hadn’t asked to speak to one, Steiger said. “Hasn’t been allowed to speak to his wife?” “Hasn’t asked to speak to his wife.” And so on.
They returned to the interview room at 4:05 am. “Seven minutes later you start the interrogation,” Goldsmith observes. “He’s been in police custody 5 and a half hours by then.” And he notes that at one point the plan was to take Chambers to jail after Harborview, but instead, he agreed to go back to police HQ “to see a picture of the guy” (that he shot)
Goldsmith then played part of the video in which a thump is heard off camera. He asked Steiger about Chambers having either hit or kicked the door four times, louder each time. The detective said he wasn’t sure about the increasing loudness.
“Isn’t it true the reason he was knocking is that he needed to urinate? And the video shows him urinating?”
“Sounds like it,” Steiger said. “I wasn’t aware of it until I saw it much later.”
The prosecution tried objecting, saying the video “speaks for itself.” The line of questioning continued.
Goldsmith: “You know that Mr. Chambers is not a young man, and sometimes they have a hard time controlling …” (Chambers was 67 at the time.)
“I know from personal experience,” Steiger replied.
Goldsmith pointed out that Chambers was on blood-pressure medication – a discussion of diuretics ensued – and that the interviewing room had “no phone, no toilet, there is no way to communicate aside from knocking on the door.”
Steiger said the individual, disconnected knocks were not the usual way someone would try to get attention. “It wasn’t clear to us that he wanted to use the bathroom, or else we clearly would have let him. There’s one right outside” the room.
“He was forced to choose between urinating on himself and on the floor, so he urinated on the floor,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith noted that neither the detective nor prosecutor Isaacson had brought this up when playing the video earlier.
“I’m not here to bring things up; I’m here to answer questions,” the detective said.
“Did you know when he was 13 he was subjected to denial of bathroom privileges to soften him up for interrogation?” Goldsmith asked.
“I have no knowledge of his background.”
The prosecution objected again. “You’re introducing a whole new set of facts.”
“I don’t know whether he knows or not,” Goldsmith countered, “but it certainly goes to the coerciveness of the interrogation. If he doesn’t know, I’m stuck with that answer.”
That’s when the jury was dismissed from the courtroom for a slightly early lunch break, and the lawyers and judge continued discussing whether this was an appropriate line of questioning for the witness.
The information about Chambers’ background had come out in an interview with an expert brought in during defense preparations. Judge Doyle wondered if Goldsmith had a “good-faith basis to continue asking (Detective Steiger) about information your client conveyed” to the expert.
Isaacson alleged it was prejudicial, “sympathy evidence for the jury.”
So when proceedings resumed just before 2 pm, the judge told the jurors to ignore the preceding three questions. Goldsmith moved shortly to talking about whether Chambers had suffered a wrist injury. Steiger contended repeatedly that while Chambers might have had some wrist soreness, as he said was often the case for people after handcuffs were taken off, soreness/pain did not equal an “injury.”
Goldsmith also asked Steiger about various interrogation points – “breaking the ice,” “slowing down,” “making your way to the main point,” “when to use open and closed questions.” And he declared: “Your interrogation style is intense.”
And often “confrontational,” as he demonstrated by replaying certain clips from the interview with Chambers, including one of the sections where Steiger was shouting.
“You would agree that was confrontational.”
“Not, out of control.”
“It was very controlled.”
“A conscious decision on your part.”
Goldsmith moved on to the setup of the room being part of the strategy, and how close a questioner might get to the person they’re questioning. Steiger eventually pointed out he didn’t use that tactic during the Chambers interview. But he said it is the type of thing that makes it “harder for the person to tell lies or change their story. If they are telling the truth, they can recite the facts over and over and over again … it works on people who are trying to be deceptive. The hardest thing in a long conversation is trying to remember the lies you told before.”
But police “are allowed to lie to people when interrogating? to deceive people? about what other witnesses are saying and have said?” Goldsmith asked.
Steiger replied “yes” to all.
“It wouldn’t work if everybody knew you’re allowed to lie to the person you’re interrogating,” Goldsmith observed.
In the final session of the day, Goldsmith showed the knife found in the back of the pickup belonging to Hood’s friend Jamie Vause, and asked if Steiger had known it was found there. No, he said. Then Goldsmith picked up the shovel that also had been in the truck. “You went to the crime scene, you were there for 20 minutes, you saw this shovel, you went to the crime scene, you were aware Mr. Hood was holding this when he was shot …In the course of interrogating (Chambers), you never brought up the shovel once.”
Goldsmith also asked why Steiger hadn’t asked Chambers what it was that the “two guys” were saying to him. “You didn’t follow up on the statements these two men made.”
“Why did that matter?” Steiger asked.
“Did you ever ask what Mr. Hood said while he was holding the shovel?”
He had not.
When Isaacson went to re-direct questioning, she asked the same questions, a different way: “Did the defendant ever offer any specifics about what was said to him? Did he say anything about the shovel?”
No to both.
Why was he confrontational in the interview with Chambers?
“I wanted him to explain his lies to me or get him to tell me more than he was telling me already.”
“Did he ever say the (car) locks didn’t work?”
“He said they were locked. Then he said they were unlocked.”
And he answered “no” to questions including whether Chambers had mentioned being on diuretics and whether he had deliberately deprived him of the chance to use the bathroom.
The day ended with another point of legal discussion – whether the questioning about when Chambers had again been read his Miranda rights might have left the jury with the impression he hadn’t been read them earlier (he had, but Steiger wasn’t there so couldn’t speak to it directly).
Trial report, Thursday 3/6/2014 (Car controversy; Chambers on video)
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)