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Murder charges were filed on Monday against two Albuquerque police officers in the shooting death of a homeless, mentally ill man last year. Although high-profile officer shooting cases in Missouri and New York have recently gone before grand juries – both of whom chose not to indict the officers – the district attorney of this New Mexico city has decided to forego a grand jury entirely. The news on Monday was followed by another deadly incident, perhaps less controversial, involving the Albuquerque Police Department on Tuesday in which the suspect, clad in body armor, fired at the officers first.
District Attorney Kari Brandenburg will present the case in front of a judge during a public hearing. The judge will make the decision as to whether or not the case against the officers will proceed. Brandenburg explained that unlike in high-profile police shootings that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, “the public is going to have” access to all of the information regarding the case. Although Brandenburg would not detail her exact reasons for charging the Albuquerque Police Department officers with murder, she allowed that it was a long and carefully thought-out decision involving herself and several staff members.
The shooting occurred in March when two officers with the Albuquerque Police Department were called to the wilderness on a report that a homeless man with mental issues was camping there illegally. When police arrived at the scene, they encountered James Boyd, 38, wielding two pocketknives. He was shot by the officers, who then fired multiple beanbag rounds into his body, which was already on the ground. Boyd succumbed to his injuries the following morning.
Albuquerque Police Department officers Dominique Perez, a member of the SWAT team, and Keith Sandy, ex-detective, have been charged with one count of murder for the death of Boyd. Prosecutors will be able to present their case for consideration of either first- or second- degree murder.
Although Boyd was known to Albuquerque law enforcement for other violent encounters with the department, video taken from a camera mounted on the helmet of an officer appeared to show Boyd in the act of surrendering when he was shot fatally by officers. Sandy’s defense lawyer, Sam Bregman, described Boyd as a knife-wielding and life-threatening menace to his client.
Bregman maintains that there is no evidence to support the case against his client and insists that Sandy did not have any criminal intent when he met up with Boyd. In addition, the attorney says that both his client and Perez followed Albuquerque Police Department training guidelines. Perez’s attorney, Luis Robles, said that he is “confident” that when the facts of the case come out, his client will be fully vindicated.
The shooting of Boyd engendered an outbreak of protests, some violent, in Albuquerque. One demonstration resulted in the firing of tear gas at protestors, while another caused a City Council meeting to be shut down. The public outrage drew attention to a spate of officer-involved shootings in the city during the past five years, which helped to usher in a federally-mandated rebuild of the entire Albuquerque Police Department, which had been under the scrutiny of the U.S. Justice Department regarding its use of deadly force in prior incidents.
Police in the New Mexico town have been involved in over 40 shootings since 2010 – 27 of which have been fatal. The federal agency’s final report was harsh and concluded that the police in Albuquerque routinely practiced the use of excessive force, which led to the Albuquerque Police Department agreeing to better train its officers and to break up units which were especially troublesome.
Neither Perez nor Sandy have been arrested or processed into the system, both of which will not occur until the judge’s decision is made at a preliminary hearing. No date has been scheduled for this hearing. In addition to New Mexico authorities, the FBI is also conducting its own investigation into the case. It is not known whether their probe will result in the filing of federal charges against the officers. The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that deadly force cases must be evaluated per what a “reasonable officer” at the scene would have done, and not through the “20/20 vision of hindsight.”
By Jennifer Pfalz
Photo by Jordan M cropped for size – License