Prosecutors on Monday pledged to bring murder charges against two Albuquerque police officers in the fatal shooting of a homeless camper whose death last March spurred rounds of protests and civilian clashes with police over allegations of excessive use of force.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said Monday she would bring criminal charges against SWAT team member Dominique Perez and former Detective Keith Sandy for their roles in the shooting death of James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man with a history of mental illness who was camping in the city’s Sandia Foothills last March.
Video footage captured by an officer’s helmet camera provides a visual to how the hours-long standoff between Boyd, who was holding a knife, and Albuquerque police came to a final end. In the video, Boyd appears to be surrendering to police and turning his back when the officers open fire. Authorities later confirmed that officers squeezed off six rounds while Boyd was lying on the ground. Officers on the scene then let a police dog loose.
Boyd died in the hospital the next day. His was one of the department’s more than three dozen fatal shootings over the last five years.
Sandy’s attorney, Sam Bregman, said in a statement Monday that the district attorney made a “bad decision” and that that the murder charge is “unjustified.”
“Keith did nothing wrong. To the contrary, he followed his training and probably saved his fellow officer’s life,” Bregman said in the statement. “While Mr. Boyd’s death is a tragedy, it is not the result of any criminal act by Keith.”
About a month after the shooting, the Justice Department released a scathing report that was the culmination of a 16-month investigation into the police department’s practices. According to the report, the feds found that Albuquerque’s police officers violated the constitutional rights of the citizens they were to protect in “a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force.” City officials signed an agreement with the Justice Department to overhaul many of their policies and better train officers.
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Simmering public discontent over the department’s policing practices boiled over last spring, in protests that turned violent at times, with police using tear gas to disperse the crowds and demonstrators shutting down a City Council meetings.
Those early rumblings of public outrage over allegations of excessive police brutality where amplified later in the year over a string of police-involved shooting deaths that disproportionately affected the black community. The open murder charges brought against the New Mexico officers comes just months after grand juries decisions in two separate high-profile cases – Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York – ultimately led to no charges for the police officers responsible for the deaths.