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Death of homeless man spurs protests over police brutality

Protests over the killing of an unarmed homeless man in New Mexico occurred in Albuquerque over the weekend.
Riot police launch tear gas toward activists in downtown Albuquerque, N.M. following a 10-hour protest around the city, on March 30, 2014.
Riot police launch tear gas toward activists in downtown Albuquerque, N.M. following a 10-hour protest around the city, on March 30, 2014.

A protest in New Mexico turned violent late Sunday as local police clashed with civilians who were protesting the death of a homeless man after a standoff with police earlier this month.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Albuquerque for over nine hours when police officers wearing riot gear used tear gas to break up crowds. Accusing the Albuquerque Police Department of excessive police brutality, the protesters claimed that law enforcement officials abused using deadly force after officers shot and killed James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man with a history of mental illness who was illegally camping in the Sandia Foothills area. 

Video footage from an APD helmet was released last Friday, capturing the three hour standoff from March 16 on camera. In the video, Boyd is seen agreeing to leave the campsite and turning away from the officers when he is shot. The Albuquerque police confirmed that officers fired six rounds of live ammunition while he was lying on the ground. Then, they let a police dog loose.

"Please don't hurt me anymore. I can't move," Boyd said to the officers.

The Albuquerque police chief, Gorden Eden, said the shooting was "justified" since Boyd had threatened officers with his two knives. Eden also brought up Boyd's criminal record, which included a physical altercation with a police officer.

The next day, Boyd died in the hospital. 

This is the department's 24th fatal shooting out of 37 total shootings since 2010

The use of deadly force has launched a criminal investigation by the Justice Department into the Boyd shooting, adjoining the 2012 civil investigation into the use of "excessive force" by the APD. 

"The investigation will focus on allegations that APD officers engage in use of excessive force, including use of unreasonable deadly force, in their encounters with civilians," the Justice Department wrote in 2012.

"People are concerned, and people want answers. That's why the FBI and the Department of Justice are involved," said Frank Fisher, a spokesman for the FBI's Albuquerque office. "We want to give them answers."

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry told the Albuquerque Journal that the protests turned to "mayhem." 

"I find it horrific, myself," Berry told a local news station KOAT. "I certainly want this case to be looked at. I want this to be a prime example of an investigation going as quickly as it can be done, in a thoughtful (manner)."

The mayor also said Police Chief Eden's comments were a mistake, noting that he is relatively new to the job having been sworn in a little over a month ago. 

"He's new to the chief position, but that's no excuse," said Berry. "I think he shouldn't have said that. I think what we all need to do on a horrific situation like this is we need thoroughly and comprehensive go through the process."

Since May 2011, APD has made more than 60 changes, with the most recent change occuring in March 2013 when the former Police Chief Ray Schultz retired from duty. 

Sunday's gathering was sparked by a YouTube video that had the logo from the global hacking group Anonymous, that warned the city of a cyberattack and city websites. An APD spokesperson confirmed to the Associated Press that the police website had been hacked for several hours Sunday.