had severe psychiatric injuries and PTSD
because the police, who were supposed
to be on his side, had killed his father, an
Iraqi war veteran and a Purple Heart hero.
Frances Carpenter, Joe Kennedy and I
worked as plaintiff’s co-counsel on behalf
of Mr. Ellis’ surviving child, bringing a
wrongful death/loss of consortium lawsuit.
We had very strong evidence of just how
devastating the loss of his father was for
him. We won the jury verdict for $10.3
million in March 2013. The case entered
into mediation in January and settled for
Jonelle Ellis, his sister, went to the
legislature, and with her grief and with the
help with the VA hospital, got legislation
passed so that officers throughout
the state of New Mexico have to get
mandatory crisis intervention and de-escalation training to try to make police
agencies more responsible to those
suffering from PTSD. We were fortunate
enough in this case to have an amazing
family, and someone like Jonelle.
Q: In many of your cases, you’ve said
you’re not just going after a dollar amount
for your client, but a change in procedure
for the police or the city.
A: An integral part of what we try to do
as a civil rights firm is to look into why.
Oftentimes in civil rights cases involving
police departments, you have police
officers who are not necessarily bad
people. They’re just poorly trained. They
make decisions that harm members of the
community that they wouldn’t make if they
were properly trained. So, in a number of
our cases we have sought better training
for officers and the development of new
standard operating procedures to prevent
future injuries to others.
Q: Any other examples?
A: We represented a class of public school
children who were being arrested for
non-violent misdemeanors. We sued on
behalf of the little girl who was arrested
because she didn’t want to sit next to the
stinky boy. We represented a boy who was
arrested for burping. Officers were being
placed in the public schools and enforcing
a petty misdemeanor for interference with
An integral part
of what we do as
a civil rights firm
is look into why.
So, in a number
of our cases we
have sought better
training for [police]
officers and the
development of new
Q: Were the officers there for school safety
A: The officers were there because people
want officers in public schools now. It was
a gig and a lot of the officers were retired
and had been brought back, but they hadn’t
So any kind of little misconduct was
being [criminalized] and kids were being
traumatized and arrested and taken from
school without their parents’ knowledge or
consent. [It was] poor training. They weren’t
telling officers how to interact with youth.
We reached a new standard operating
procedure so that they would no longer
handcuff and transport kids away from
school [in situations where], you know, kids
should have been going to the principal’s
office. The number of such arrests went
from 180 in the Albuquerque public schools
over two years, to one the year after the
Q: You grew up in Oregon and spent time
in New York and Alaska before you ended
up in Albuquerque.
A: I was an international studies and Spanish
major, so I loved travel and I wanted to see
as much of the world as I possibly could. I
was born in Ketchikan, Alaska, and my father
was a public school teacher and a fisherman.
I moved down to Oregon and went to the
University of Oregon. And then I ended up
out here, and I finished my masters in Latin
American studies and got my law degree.
Q: What about Albuquerque kept you
A: Well, I met my husband here. It’s one of
the most beautiful places in the country. It’s
just a fascinating place to live with all the
different cultures, and you have a great legal
Q: How did the two of you meet?
A: We met while we were both working in his
brother’s law firm—Paul Kennedy, who was
on the New Mexico Supreme Court. We were
told to do a civil rights case together by his
brother, and that’s how we fell in love.
Q: Before that, you were in New York
working with the UN Human Rights
Project. A: It was fascinating. I was working
on the Women’s Project, and we were