Police oversight task force members in Albuquerque NM demanded on March 25 for an independent investigation into the fatal police shooting of a man on March 16. This followed worldwide condemnation when video footage showed highlights of the altercation between the 38-year-old James M. Boyd with local law enforcement officers. On March 24, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said the video, which was taken by a member of the law enforcement team, was “horrific.” The panel members are seeking an investigation of both the Second Judicial District Attorney’s office, and the local police.
The Albuquerque City Council founded the Police Oversight Task Force to aid in reviewing the oversight of police. A list of policy recommendations is due to be offered soon to city councilors.
Police in Albuquerque say that officers fired stun guns, bean bag rounds, and live rounds at Boyd on the evening of March 16. They allege that he threatened to kill the officers while holding a knife in each hand as he stood on a slope approximately 20 feet above them on a desert hillside. A camera affixed to an officer recorded the scene as officers demanded, while aiming various weapons, that Boyd surrender. Boyd died on March 17. However, it is not clear what exactly was the cause of his death.
Previous shootings by Albuquerque police have brought about some protests, but the latest has drawn the ire of government officials and human rights advocates. Observers point out that the controversial law agency is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice over its use of force and 36 officer shootings (22 of which were fatal) since 2010. Most of these shootings were not recorded on video because the Albuquerque police department had not required its officers to wear cameras until May 2012.
An evening protest on March 25 brought out scores of citizens from Albuquerque and Santa Fe. While some chanted “We want justice,” others bore signs in protest.
The Boyd shooting is currently under investigation by 5 outside agencies. The police department of Las Cruces has been called in on the case, while Mayor Berry has invited DOJ to review relevant files.
On March 21, Albuqueque police chief Gorden Eden said that two of his officers fired three shots at Boyd when he threatened to kill officers while wielding two knives. In the video now available, officers demanded that Boyd “drop the knife.” According to Eden, Boyd had a lengthy criminal record. A medical examiner has not yet determined whether the police bullets killed Boyd.
Police had responded to a citizen’s call and found him sleeping in a makeshift camp. Chief Eden claimed that Boyd claimed to be a federal agent, while demanding to see New Mexico State Police troopers, who he also threatened to kill. Eden said of the raid, “The officers were attempting to affect a felony arrest using less-than lethal weapons, including a distractive device, K9, and a Taser shotgun.” It was officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez who shot toward Boyd, Eden said. In the video, Boyd was turning away from the officers when he was shot.
The police video shows Boyd fell to the ground suddenly after shots were fired, and then showed him on the ground and unresponsive when surrounded and handcuffed by police. Eden said, “The suspect did in fact make a decision not to follow the directions that (were) provided to him by the officers,” adding, “On many occasions he said that he was not going to come off that mountain.” Eden said that his officers’ actions were indeed justified.
Chief Eden said that Boyd had been arrested in the past for violent crimes, including a 2010 arrest for punching an officer and fracturing her nose at a public library. Police reported that Boyd’s criminal record goes back for 20 years.
As for officers on the scene, local reports say that Officer Keith Sandy was once a trooper with the New Mexico State Police, but was dismissed after being accused of getting paid twice to teach law enforcement classes. Sandy denies any wrongdoing. Officer Dominique Perez served in the Marine Corps in Iraq and received a Purple Heart.
The police fired on Boyd after he told them he was going to walk with them down the mountain. “Don’t change up the agreement,” Boyd said. “I’m going to try to walk with you.” He then told them he was not a murderer and then turned to pick up his possessions and prepare to walk toward the officers. It was then that an officer fired a flash-bang device, which apparently disoriented Boyd. The illegal camper then appears to pull out knives as an officer with a dog approached him. He then made a threatening gesture, and then started to turn away from police. Shots were then fired and Boyd fell to the ground. Blood spatters could be seen on the ground around him.