By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
It was back to the background as the Morgan Junction murder trial continued Monday.
With testimony concluding last week from key prosecution witness Jamie Vause, who says he saw defendant Lovett “Cid” Chambers shoot his friend Travis Hood, the lineup of witnesses returned to a focus on public-safety and criminal-justice personnel through whom lawyers wove threads of the story.
Three sections from the timeline of events were involved in Monday’s testimony, all taking place after the shooting on January 21, 2012:
*What happened when the Southwest Precinct Anti-Crime Team went to Chambers’ Gatewood home after he was identified as a suspect, as told by the ACT’s then-leader and two officers
Here’s our distillation of what the jury heard about all of the above:
AT THE MOUNT
First Monday witness was Patrice Falkner, at the reception desk the night of the shooting, with some arriving night-shift workers milling around to find out about their assignments, when a man ran in through the front door. “He was sort of yelling,” she recalled. “He said he needed help, his friend had been shot … I said, this is not a hospital, I’ll call 911.” She realized he hadn’t quite comprehended, because he then asked for a wheelchair, and she asked an assistant to explain to him again. Vause explained he had brought his friend there because he thought it was “the closest emergency room.” Asked if she could remember him saying anything else about what happened, she thought he had said his friend had been “shot in the back by a black man … I think he said three or four times.” She saw Vause try to hold Hood’s head up, telling him “you’re going to be all right, hang in there,” but Hood’s body appeared “totally limp.” Emergency responders then arrived, and she went back to her desk, which, she said, was the end of her involvement with the incident.
Next, SFD paramedic Daniel Bachmeier, who testified in his dress-blue uniform. Senior deputy prosecuting attorney Margaret Nave had him go deeply into background about how the city’s paramedic corps works. They rotate assignments between the seven medic units, including Medic 32, which is based at Fire Station 32 in The Triangle, to which Bachmeier was assigned the night of the shooting. While firefighters are all trained as Emergency Medical Technicians, Bachmeier said,
The medic units are “designed to be like a mobile intensive-care unit,” he explained, including “drugs you’d find in an emergency room” and technology including heart monitors and defibrillators.
January 21st, 2012, had been a busy day, so he and his partner were headed toward Alki to get dinner when the dispatch came in – “assault with weapons.” They were sent to The Mount. He explained how usually they would get the initial dispatch and then more details while they were already heading to the location. This was an “assault with weapons 7,” meaning they wanted a minimum of seven SFD personnel on hand. That, he explained, would usually mean the closest medic unit, as well as two “basic life support units” – two fire engines or a fire engine and ladder truck; there are only seven medic units citywide, so the 7-person response can’t be comprised entirely of medic units.
For an assault-with-weapons call, two other units would be dispatched – Medic 44, the “medical-services officer” on duty, described by Bachmeier as “sort of the liaison between us and our medical-control doctor at Harborview,” and the area Battalion Chief, “to watch over the whole scene and make sure everything is safe.” When Medic 32 got to The Mount, he said, Engine 32 and Ladder 11 – also based a few blocks away at Station 32 – were already there, “working on an individual.” In fact, he recalled, they had already started CPR.
He said they put Hood into Medic 32 – “easier for us to perform our duties in a clean, well-lit environment” – and began procedures such as IV’s – with a fluid called lactated ringers, “like unflavored Gatorade” – and intubation to “breathe for him.” Hood was “unconscious, unresponsive, no pulse, not breathing … clinically dead,” he said.
Nave asked him to explain why, if that was so, they were doing so much. Bachmeier explained that “you might not have a pulse but your heart might just need a kickstart, which we do very well in this city … quite often we are able to regain a pulse and a blood pressure and stabilize a patient enough to get him to the hospital.” They used epinephrine to help with that, and eventually, they said, his pulse and heart rate returned. They worked on Hood in the medic unit at The Mount for about 15 minutes. “Why didn’t you just leave (immediately)?” asked Nave. “Some procedures, listening to the heart and lungs, you just can’t do when bouncing down the road … we often try to get the patient as stable as we can.”
However, Hood did not regain consciousness or breathe on his own; later, Bachmeier said, “I heard he did not survive.”
AT THE CHAMBERS HOME
Next up: Lt. Steve Strand, now operations lieutenant (number 2 in command) for the South Precinct, was the sergeant leading the Anti-Crime Team the night of the shooting. He explained its special-assignment-type role, which the jury had heard about from previous witnesses, and other facets such as their all-black uniforms, and the .40-caliber Glocks they all carried at the time (Strand said department rules have since changed to allow more of a variety of guns to be carried).
He and his team were “all together in a van” when the call came over the radio, with a suspect description and vehicle description. First they started driving toward the shooting scene, hearing more about the description – “late ’90s BMW M3 that was blue … adult black male, age range late 40s or early 50s … we later learned the name of the suspect, ‘Cid’ nickname, Lovett Chambers.” And then they heard a specific address. Lt. Strand said he made the call to go to the residence – “usually the SWAT team (would handle it), but that takes time, and we didn’t want to lose time or have evidence be destroyed,” so he decided they would go.
They stopped nearby first and came up with a plan on how to approach.
“Did you expect the approach to the house to be dangerous?” asked Nave.
“It was probably one of the most dangerous things I’ve done in my career,” Strand replied.
He detailed how the ACT members approached the front door in a line, the “point” in front having his gun in the “low-ready” position (explained later) while the others held theirs in a position called “sul”; each officer had her/his not-holding-gun hand on the shoulder of the officer in front of them.
As noted in earlier testimony, two detectives went to the back of the Chambers house (a photo of which was shown to the jury at this point). “The plan was to knock on the door and see if ‘Cid’ Chambers was at the residence and if so, to take him into custody,” Strand recalled.
They knocked, and Chambers came to the door relatively quickly, and identified himself readily, Strand testified. He matched the description they had heard. “Two officers took control of Mr. Chambers’ arms, placed him into handcuffs, stepped aside from the door.” Strand only interacted with him briefly but recalled him as cooperative, if “a little bit out of it, I didn’t know whether from the night’s events or alcohol/substances.”
The focus turned to what and who might be in the Chambers home. His wife Sara was there, but police had no idea if anyone else was, and whether it was safe. They did note a handgun on the kitchen-area table, next to a set of BMW car keys. (Nave showed a photo.) The gun was described as semi-automatic, black, in a holster.
At that point, Strand said, specialty teams were contacted – Homicide, CSI. A search warrant was sought.
He was cross-examined by defense attorney Lauren McLane, who asked whether the Feedback Lounge – where, you’ll recall, Chambers, Vause, and Hood, had been drinking before the shooting, though not together – was a problematic place. “No,” Strand replied, also noting along the way that it was frequented by police officers among others.
McLane asked him for a further description and demonstration of the stance officers took as they approached the Chambers home before arresting him. This testimony bridged from before to after the daily hour-and-a-half lunch break. The “low-ready” gun-holding position was explained as “both hands on the handgun in front of you, kind of pointed at a 45-degree angle at the ground.” The “sul” position used by the officers behind the “point” was explained as holding the gun crosswise against the body, with it “pointed toward the crown.”
Lt. Strand was given a cutout in the shape/size of a gun to demonstrate, and he obliged. He was asked about the index finger on the gun-holding hand: “One of the fundamental rules of handling guns, you don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’ve made the decision to fire.”
Two officers who were on the Anti-Crime Team the night of the shooting were next. First, Officer Anthony Belgarde, who was the “point” at the head of the line as they approached the door of the Chambers house. “We were going to approach with our weapons drawn in the ‘sul’ position – a possible suspect was just involved in a shooting, could still have the weapon drawn on him.”
As the first person in the line, Officer Belgarde said, “More or less, I was the bullet-taker. If shots rang out from the house, I was the one that was going to take the bullets, and everybody else (would) fall back for cover. I was also the one to knock and do the talking with the persons in the house.”
He too described Chambers coming to the door – wearing socks, no shoes. “He smelled like alcohol, it was very obvious he had been drinking, the way he stood and the way he was talking, he swayed a little bit.” He walked the suspect to a patrol car – but the only one there at the time was a K-9 vehicle, with no seating inside, so they put him on the bumper of a the vehicle. Officer Belgarde said Chambers said he needed to use the restroom, but they did not let him – “we weren’t sure if there was a weapon inside the residence, more possible victims, so for safety, we could not allow him back inside to use the restroom.”
After someone else took Chambers to the precinct, Belgarde was asked to stand by at the house to keep an eye on the BMW, though he was not there when it was taken away for impound, and his involvement with the case ended relatively early.
On cross-examination, McLane pressed him on points in his statement from that night saying that Chambers had been argumentative – but, she asked, wasn’t he only asking to use the restroom? Replied Belgarde, “I’m sure there were other things being said, but that was the primary thing.” McLane noted the police report also did not mention Chambers slurring words, but then on re-direct, he reiterated to Nave that the defendant was doing just that.
After Belgarde, Officer Kyle Galbraith – working patrol that night – testified. He got to Morgan Junction Park as other officers were putting up crime-scene tape. Eventually, he said, then-Sgt. Strand asked him to go to the Chambers house to assist with transporting him. He did not go into the house but met the suspect outside. When he advised Chambers that he would be audio- and visual-recorded, Galbraith explained, Chambers said, “F— you.” That was out of the ordinary, Galbraith said, because “most people don’t usually say f— you when I tell them they’re being … recorded.” He subsequently took Chambers to the precinct and there to a holding cell – a stark concrete enclosure; after that, he was asked to take the suspect to police headquarters downtown, and from there, he gave Chambers’ wife a ride back to West Seattle.
ANALYZING THE EVIDENCE
You might recall that a WSP Crime Lab forensic scientist testified earlier. Her specialty was DNA. On Monday, Donna Wilson, “trained in chemical unknowns,” provided testimony. Analyzing drug-type substances is her specialty – more than 1,600 cases, she estimated, including this one. She was asked to talk about the substance found on a knife that turned up in the back of Vause’s pickup, a knife that Vause said belonged to Hood, but that had become slimed with marijuana concentrate he was trying to cut.
Wilson said she had been “asked to analyze the black substance on the knife” – some of which remains on it to this day – “so I looked for that residue.” She explained gas chromatography/mass spectography testing and said she did find compounds “that were defined at the time as marijuana,” though, she noted, the state’s rules have changed since then.
Another facet of the evidence analysis was the subject of the next witness, SPD fingerprint examiner Betty Newlin. She had only made it through some questions of fingerprint-evidence gathering and analysis techniques before the day in court came to a close at 4 pm; she will be on the stand when the trial resumes in the 9 am hour on Tuesday.
TRIAL TIMELINE: During breaks in testimony, the lawyers for both sides were asked about this; the prosecutors estimate their case might run to midweek next week, and the defense lawyers think theirs will last at least a week and a half.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE AND BACKSTORY:
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)
Charge reduced to second-degree murder (August 9, 2013)
Charges filed against Chambers (January 25, 2012)
Coverage the night it happened and the morning after (January 21-22, 2012)
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