Moral Low Ground


Albuquerque Police Under Fire for Killing Homeless Camper James Boyd

James BoydThe Albuquerque Police Department says its officers were justified in killing a mentally ill homeless man with a history of violence who was camping illegally in the city’s foothills.

Although 38-year-old James Boyd was turning away from officers when fired on him on March 16, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden insisted at a Friday press conference that the shooting was justified.

Boyd, who authorities say may have been a paranoid schizophrenic, has a long history of criminal violence. He has been accused of attacking people with knives, box cutters and his bare hands. He once broke a female police officer’s nose, KOAT reported.

But on Sunday, it appears as if Boyd’s ‘crime’ was being poor; specifically, camping illegally in the city’s foothills. When Albuquerque police officers arrived on the scene to get him to leave, Boyd, who was armed with two small knives, argued with them for three hours. When one officer attempted to frisk him, he refused, threatening that he was “almost going to kill” them.

As the standoff unfolded, an Albuquerque Police Department crisis intervention team and New Mexico State Police liaison were called in. They unsuccessfully attempted to speak with Boyd, but he threatened them as well.

All of this was recorded on at least one officer’s helmet-mounted camera. The video, which has been released by the APD, shows Boyd apparently getting ready to comply with the officer’s commands. He is seen gathering his belongings and throwing a backpack over his shoulder as if he’s preparing to move on. As he starts to move, one officer gives the command to “do it,” and another officer fires a ‘less lethal’ round at Boyd while another unleashes a police canine.

As officers close in on Boyd, yelling for him to “get on the ground,” he appears to turn away from them just as two officers, Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy, open fire with rifles loaded with live ammunition. Boyd is struck multiple times and falls face-first to the rocky ground. Although he is clearly down, officers sic the police dog on him anyway.

KRQE reported Sandy had been fired from the New Mexico State Police following accusations of fraud. When Sandy joined the APD, he was supposedly to be limited to civilian work and was not supposed to have a gun or badge. But somehow he managed to rise through the ranks, joining the Repeat Offender Project Team.

The Associated Press reports Boyd was shot with a flash bang grenade, multiple stun guns, bean bag rounds and six live rifle rounds.

After being shot and subdued, Boyd was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died the next day.

APD Chief Eden insisted his officers acted appropriately and that Boyd was a “direct threat.”

“If you watch the video tape, all the less than lethal devices were in fact deployed,” Eden said at Friday’s press conference. “It was when the canine officer was down directing the canine dog that the suspect pulled out the two knives and directed a threat to the canine officer who had no weapons drawn. He was handling the dog.”

But Patrick Davis, executive director of the grassroots progressive organization ProgressNow New Mexico, condemned the shooting.

“I was a police officer for a decade,” Davis told the Huffington Post. “The over-militarized approach to law enforcement is having a very real effect on people’s lives here in New Mexico and our leaders who should be taking real action seem to be taking it all in stride.”

The incident comes amidst a US Justice Department probe into APD’s use of force and 36 shootings committed by police officers since 2010. Twenty-two of those shootings resulted in residents’ deaths. According to ProgressNow, APD officers have shot as many people as their NYPD counterparts since 2010, but in a city with 1/16 the population of New York.

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