Prosecutors in Albuquerque filed murder charges against two police officers in the March killing of a mentally disturbed homeless camper.
The killing, captured on a police helmet camera, attracted national attention in part because the man, though armed with small knives, was at a considerable distance from the officers and appeared to be complying with police when he was shot. The video is extremely graphic.
The killing contributed to the police department’s reputation for use of excessive force that made it the focus of a highly critical Department of Justice report. The report concluded the department engaged in a “significant amount of deadly force” that presented an “ongoing risk to the public.” A settlement provided for enhanced training and other remedial measures.
The Albuquerque Police Department has been involved in more than 40 shootings since 2010, resulting in 27 deaths, according to the Albuquerque Journal. This is the first of the shootings that produced a charge against a police officer.
James Boyd, 36, diagnosed with schizophrenia, was camping illegally in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains when police approached him and ordered him to come down. Video appeared to show him attempting to comply and picking up his bag when police fired a flash grenade at him and came at him with an assault rifle and a police dog.
Next, Boyd appeared to pull out small knives, at which point the officers fired six rounds at him.
After the shooting, police Chief Gorden Eden defended his officers, detective Keith Sandy and SWAT team member Dominique Perez, saying Boyd had made a threatening move toward Perez, according to the Journal.
In a criminal information document filed Monday, however, Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg issued an “open count” of murder against the two officers, which bypasses the grand jury and leaves it to a judge to determine the charge: first degree murder, second degree murder or aggravated assault.
Though the victim and the officers in this case were white, Brandenburg said she was deliberately avoiding the secrecy of a grand jury proceeding in part because of controversies that erupted after grand juries in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City declined to bring charges in the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, unarmed black men.
“Unlike Ferguson and unlike in New York City, we’re going to know. The public is going to have that information,” she said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press.
Sandy’s attorney, Sam Bregman, called Monday’s charge a “terrible, terrible decision.”
“He spent his whole career and life protecting people,” he said of Sandy, “and that he’s been charged with murder because he’s protecting another officer, as you can imagine, that goes right to his core. It hurts. It hurts bad.”
Bob Martinez, president of New Mexico’s Fraternal Order of Police, said the “problem is not the police,” Martinez said. “We have a dangerous society. It is time to stop second guessing police officers.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misidentified Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg.