Two Albuquerque cops have been charged with murder in the shooting death of a homeless man last year—a rare occurrence for a police department accused by the government last year of engaging in a "pattern…of excessive force."
SWAT team member Dominique Perez and former detective Keith Sandy are facing “open murder” charges in the case of 38-year-old James Boyd, who was killed last spring during a hours-long standoff with police, said Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg on Monday. Open murder allows prosecutors to pursue either first-degree or second-degree murder charges.
Video of the shooting from an officer’s helmet camera showed Boyd, who was holding two small knives, appearing to surrender when officers opened fire. The video sparked national outrage and massive protests around the city. A few months later, the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Eric Garner in New York City brought renewed national attention to police-involved fatalities.
But Albuquerque's police department had already been under intense scrutiny, despite its adoption of body cameras back in 2010.
Last year, a U.S. Justice Department concluded that the police department "engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution." The city has since signed an agreement allowing the Department of Justice to monitor the police force and promised to implement reforms.
Now, the Boyd case marks the first time Albuquerque's district attorney has brought criminal charges against police officers in a shooting since she took office 14 years ago.
Sandy’s lawyer Sam Bregman told the Associated Press that the decision was "unjustified" and that there is “not one shered” evidence to support the case, regardless of the video evidence. Perez’s attorney, Luis Robles, also sought to justify his client’s actions."Sadly, this day has come. Regardless, I am confident that the facts will vindicate Officer Perez's actions in this case," Robles told the AP.
Albuquerque Police Department has one of the highest police-involved shootings rates in the country. Last November, a Fusion investigation found that the number of police involved shootings in the city has increased over the past decade.
Brandenburg said in a press conference the next step will be a preliminary hearing, which has not yet been set. A judge will later determine if the case can move forward.