The trial of two Albuquerque (NM) police officers who shot a mentally ill homeless man as he turned away from them on a boulder-strown hillside has surprisingly ended in a hung jury.
The murder trial of two former police officers in the shooting death of a mentally ill homeless man in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2014 has ended without verdicts.
The former officers, Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy, both faced charges of second-degree murder; Sandy was also accused of aggravated battery. After two days of deliberations, the jury considering the murder charges was deadlocked 9-3 for acquittal, according to the Albuquerque Journal. A unanimous jury decision is required in murder cases.
“District Judge Alisa Hadfield declared a mistrial after she polled jurors individually to confirm they believed further deliberations would be futile in deciding whether the officers were guilty of second-degree murder. No vote was taken on a battery charge against Sandy,” the newspaper reports.
Special prosecutor Randi McGinn said it will be up to incoming District Attorney Raúl Torrez to decide whether to retry the two in connection with the 2014 shooting death.
The two men were accused of shooting James Boyd, 38, when he was camping in the foothills outside Albuquerque in March 2014. Authorities say Boyd suffered from schizophrenia.
The verdict is surprising not only in that the jury was hung, but that they jury strongly favored acquitting the officers by a 9-3 margin.
This strongly suggests that the jury were exposed to compelling evidence that served to all but reverse the influence of the Albuquerque Police body camera video we saw in the wake of the 2014 shooting, which at the time seemed to suggest a nearly open and shut criminal homicide.
I’ll grant that camera lenses can distort apparent distances, but as the K9 officer is on his knees directly in front of the officer in the center of the video, I don’t find Chief Eden’s claim that they were “less than eight feet” from Boyd to be credible.
There seems to be closer to 15-20 feet of horizontal separation, and perhaps 4-5 feet of vertical separation on rough, boulder-strewn terrain. Again, as far as Boyd’s movement shows, he was intent on increasing that separation, and is turning away from the officers when shots are fired.
Lets be very clear here: if there was a shorter separation gap, it is because officers were moving aggressively to close the distance to Boyd.
From the perspective of the helmet camera of Officer Perez, I don’t see where he was justified in taking the three shots that he did on a man turning away from them.
Separately, Perez seems to be in a bad position to be taking any shots at all. The two officers on the hillside ahead of him had rapidly shifted into position as the advanced up the hill, and they stepped in front of Perez. This could have easily resulted in a “blue on blue” shooting, and Perez should have lowered his rifle.
An even more concerning factor is that the other APD officer who fired on Boyd, Keith Sandy, isn’t even supposed to have a gun or a badge, as he was fired from the New Mexico State Police for fraud.
One of the officers who was involved, Keith Sandy has a notable history in New Mexico law enforcement. APD hired Sandy in 2007 after he was fired by New Mexico State Police over the Wackenhut scandal. Sandy was accused of fraud for making money doing private security work while on the clock for State Police.
When Sandy was hired by APD, the department said he would be a civilian employee and he wouldn’t have a gun or a badge. However, Sandy quickly rose through the department, landing on the ROPE Team, which goes after repeat offenders or some of the city’s most dangerous criminals.
Looking at the comments of the article, the locals doesn’t seem to be buying the explanation provided by the Albuquerque Police that this was a justified shooting, and there seems to be some serious trust issues between the police and the citizenry.
Considering that the officer who most likely killed Boyd shouldn’t even be a police officer due his past allegations of fraud and the APD saying that he would be a civilian employee without a badge or a gun, I can understand their concerns.
It will be very interesting to see if former officers Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy are retried in this case. I would argue that shooting a knife-armed man in the back as he turned away does not justify the use of deadly force when the totality of the incident is examined.
While it is clear that James Boyd did not want to be taken into custody, he did not have a firearm, was not on terrain that gave him any opportunity to close the distance with officers quickly even if he had been aggressive, and most importantly, he was not acting aggressively towards officers, nor was he immediately capable of escaping and posing a short term threat to the public.
In short, this appears to have been a criminal homicide, and I’m stumped as to what evidence those nine jurors saw that had them deadlocked in favor of acquitting these officers.