In a rare decision when there is an ‘officer involved’ shooting, two Albuquerque police officers will face murder charges for killing a homeless man last March.
James Boyd was camping illegally in the foothills above the city. The 38-year-old man was shot and killed by two officers; Keith Sandy, and Dominique Perez. Sandy retired at the end of 2014 with the rank of Detective.
Several heavily armed officers confronted Boyd who was known to have a history of mental illness. He held knives in his hands when one officer threw a ‘flash-bang’ grenade at his feet. Shots were subsequently fired; they included live rounds, stun guns, and bean bags. Boyd received additional wounds as he laid on the ground. The entire event was captured by a helmet cam.
Protests erupted in the city after news services revealed the man’s death. Just weeks later a 19-year-old woman was shot to death by Albuquerque Police.
Investigation by the federal government resulted in a report stating that Albuquerque law enforcement officers displayed a policy of excessive force, and violated the fourth amendment rights of victims.
Over a four year period Albuquerque Police shot dozens of individuals, killing 25 of them. Internal investigations reported that all the previous shootings were justified.
Protests occurred throughout the United States in 2014 after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, and again when Eric Garner was strangled to death on the streets of New York City by a member of the NYPD. In both cases a Grand Jury failed to file charges against the officers.
In Albuquerque District Attorney Kari Brandenburg made the decision to prosecute the two officers without bringing the case before a Grand Jury. This is the first time she has prosecuted a member of the police force for a shooting.
The process will now place the issue before county prosecutors who will decide to place the case before a Grand Jury, or file a ‘criminal information’ charge of their own.
An attorney speaking for former officer Sandy made a statement to the press claiming that he was only doing his job, and most likely saved the lives of other officers. Perez’ attorney said that when all the facts were revealed, and the film from the helmet cam was carefully scrutinized, his client would be vindicated.
Law Enforcement agencies across the nation have been verbally attacked for acts of unwarranted violence and unlawful death. Instead of a relationship of trust, many communities, primarily in areas heavily populated by minorities, fear the men and women who are entrusted to protect them. The increase in military style clothing, vehicles, and weaponry have increased the level of fear.
If the City of Albuquerque follows through with the prosecution of these two officers it will be a unique event. It is extremely rare for a Grand Jury to make a decision to prosecute a member of law enforcement acting with deadly force while they were performing their duties.
An unacceptable pattern has developed among far too many law enforcement agencies. They are issued weapons to protect citizens and themselves; lethal force should only be used if no other option is available to them. It appears that many of those whose purpose is to protect the public have received insufficient training.
By James Turnage