from the not-every-killing-is-justifiable dept
Given what has happened in recent months, with two grand juries returning no bills in two controversial officer-related deaths -- Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner in New York City -- it's almost unbelievable to read the following:
The district attorney in Albuquerque has charged two police officers on single counts of open murder—meaning they don't know yet what degree of killing the state intends to prove at trial—in connection with the killing of homeless camper James Boyd, caught on body camera last April.The incident was captured on officers' body cams. What started out as a homeless man (James Boyd) being rousted for illegal camping "escalated" into him being shot multiple times and dying at the scene. "Escalated" is in quotes because the man had agreed to surrender to the Albuquerque police officers, who for whatever reason decided to release a dog, hit him with a concussion grenade and then fire several bullets at him.
The officers who shot him (Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy -- the latter of which was allowed to retire after the incident) claimed they were forced to because the man produced two knives.
In a statement sent Monday morning, Sandy's attorney Sam Bregman claimed the charges are unjustified and that Sandy, "had not only the right, but the duty to defend a fellow officer from a mentally unstable, violent man wielding two knives. Keith did nothing wrong. To the contrary, he followed his training and probably saved his fellow officer's life." Bregman did not specify which of the four other officers who were confronting Boyd at the end of a four-hour standoff was saved.Of course, the threat Boyd presented was also 20-30 feet away uphill and the officers had no shortage of non-lethal options at their disposal. But they chose to take the "hail of bullets" route, killing Boyd essentially for camping without a permit.
The attorney for Perez, Luis Robles, also pointed to the judgement calls police officers make during critical moments. He told News 13 in a statement, "This is truly a shame. Throughout his career, Officer Perez has been called upon to make life-altering decisions while protecting Albuquerque citizens and his fellow officers. And having made one of those decisions, Officer Perez now faces an open count of murder. Regardless, I am confident that the facts will vindicate Officer Perez's actions in this case."
Being charged with murder is going to cut into former Detective Sandy's free time. His fortuitious retirement allowed him to bypass internal accountability as well as ensuring a steady income for the rest of his life.
News 13 has learned Sandy had accrued just shy of 19 years service credit from his time with both NMSP and APD. Under his pension plan, he’s allowed to buy up to a year of “airtime” that adds to that service time. That allows Sandy to get to a magic number, 20 years of service credit.The DA's unusual move hasn't made here any friends within the Albuquerque PD (which was recently slammed by the DOJ for its habitual use of excessive force). Kari Brandenburg -- and her office -- are now persona non grata at the PD.
After 20 years of service, APD officers can retire and get about 70 percent of their pay in an annual pension. A year less, and Sandy would have to wait until he’s 61 to start collecting that money, likely costing him at least a million dollars.
News 13 has also learned Sandy had recently been ordered to sit down with internal affairs investigators. Retiring allows him to avoid that interview.
A top prosecutor for District Attorney Kari Brandenburg’s office was shut out of a briefing after a fatal police shooting near San Mateo and Constitution NE on Tuesday evening, Brandenburg told KRQE News 13.At least the PD was upfront about why it was suddenly locking out its former best friends.
Police officials and others were gathering to discuss the most recent developments in the investigation a few hours after the shooting, Brandenburg said. Chief Deputy DA Sylvia Martinez attempted to join the briefing, but Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy would not let Martinez attend.
Levy invoked the charges in barring Martinez from the briefing, according to Brandenburg.This frosty move violates 2004 written agreement between the PD and DA's office on the investigation of police shootings -- one that was included as part of the reforms handed down by the DOJ after its 18-month investigation. But that's what happens to anyone who doesn't treat cops as above reproach (or punishment), even entities that are nominally on the "same team," like prosecutors.
“Sylvia was told that our office has a conflict of interest because we charged the officers,” she said.
Notably, it's an open murder charge, meaning there's lots of leeway for the defense. It will also be a tough sell. The prosecutors will need to prove that the officers deliberately acted to end James Boyd's life, as well as surmount the additional protections afforded officers who kill citizens in the line of duty. New Mexico does have a grand jury process so it's notable that it has been bypassed for these charges. The DA's office claims to have seen something in the evidence that led it to move forward with murder charges, and it possibly felt that dumping into a grand jury's hands would either be unpopular or less likely to result in an indictment. Either way, it seems to indicate the DA's office knows how screwed up the grand jury system is, what with its "ham sandwich, unless it's a police officer" track record.
Whatever's contained in that evidence must be pretty damning. DA's offices are rarely interested in prosecuting police officers since they're both on the law enforcement side of the equation. No doubt the noticeable drop in cooperation from law enforcement, should they move forward with charges, factors into the rarity of these situations as well.
While it would be tempting to see that as an indicator that more accountability is on the way, it's far more likely that this will remain the exception to rule. But it is good to see someone attacking the argument that officer safety is paramount, even if from an oblique angle. Calling Boyd's shooting "murder" makes the statement that the cops who shot him had no interest in simply neutralizing the threat. Instead, they opened fire and kept firing until Boyd was dead.