- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A civil trial over the fatal Albuquerque police shooting of a 27-year-old man with schizophrenia began Monday in a case that drew added scrutiny to the department’s high number of officer-involved shootings.

Christopher Torres‘ family filed the wrongful death lawsuit after the shooting.

According to authorities, officers C.J. Brown and Richard Hilger shot Torres in the back at close range in 2011 while serving an arrest warrant on a felony charge of aggravated auto burglary for trying to carjack a woman at a traffic light. During the confrontation with police, Torres tried to punch Hilger and grabbed Hilger’s gun as they scuffled in the suspect’s backyard, police said.

Brown said in a deposition he drew his service pistol and fired three shots just inches from Torres‘ back. Torres continued to struggle until after the third shot was fired, Brown said.

“I didn’t know of his mental illness,” Brown said. “If we would have known, things may have been different.”

Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said last month that Brown and Hilger wouldn’t face criminal charges because it did not appear that they committed a crime during the April 2011 shooting. Brandenburg said it’s “almost impossible” to prosecute if there’s any evidence an officer feared for his life.

After the shooting, the Torres family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Albuquerque police in state court. The lawsuit claims that Albuquerque police failed to conduct background checks on Torres that might have avoided the fatal confrontation.

Both sides began opening statements Monday.

The trial comes as Albuquerque police remain under a U.S. Justice Department investigation over excessive force cases and three dozen shootings - 20 fatal - since 2010.

The department recently hired a new police chief, former New Mexico Public Safety Secretary Gorden Eden, who has vowed to review the department’s policies and leadership structure.

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