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Over Easy: Two Albuquerque Police Officers Charged With Murder

On Monday, Kari E. Brandenburg, the district attorney for Bernalillo County, charged Albuquerque police officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez with murder in the shooting death of 38-year-old James Boyd, a homeless man with a history of mental illness. The officers killed Boyd in March 2014 in the Sandia foothills where Boyd was camping. Officer Dominique Perez remains on administrative leave and Detective Keith Sandy is recently retired. The FBI is reportedly investigating the killing, which occurred after a number of other Albuquerque Police Department (APD) shootings that the Justice Department was investigating regarding civil rights violations of the mentally ill, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

The DA filed these charges by information, as opposed to presenting the case to a grand jury.  The court has not yet set a date for a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a probable cause hearing. The prosecution will have to present sufficient evidence to persuade a judge that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant officers committed the crimes charged. The rules of evidence do not apply in a preliminary hearing, and hearsay is admissible. Defense typically does not put on any evidence at a preliminary hearing. Normally, a prosecutor calls the arresting officer or the detective in charge of the investigation, but that is not possible here because no arrest has occurred and the defendants are two police officers who killed Boyd. It is also notable that this is the first time in 50 years that an Albuquerque DA has filed charges against on-duty police officers for a fatal shooting:

Brandenburg’s decision to pursue criminal charges is believed to be the first such action against an APD officer for an on-duty fatal shooting in at least 50 years, and the district attorney says she has enough evidence of criminal conduct to proceed.

Now, evidence and testimony will be presented in open court for all to see and hear. And by filing open murder counts it will be up to a judge, not the DA, to decide what level of charges – first- or second-degree murder or manslaughter – are pursued, or whether there isn’t enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial at all.

The charging court documents are the same for both officers. The first one reads:

Deborah B. DePalo, Chief Deputy District Attorney for the Second Judicial District of the State of New Mexico, accuses DOMINIQUE PEREZ of FIRST DEGREE MURDER (WILLFUL AND DELIBERATE), SECOND DEGREE MURDER (FIREARM ENHANCEMENT) AND VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER (FIREARM and charges:

COUNT 1: FIRST DEGREE MURDER (WILLFUL AND DELIBERATE), SECOND DEGREE MURDER (FIREARM ENHANCEMENT) AND MANSLAUGHTER (FIREARM) That on or about the 16th day of March, 2014, in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, the above-named defendant did murder James Boyd, with the deliberate intention to take away the life of James Boyd, or any other human being, contrary to NMSA 1978; AND FURTHERMORE, the defendant is hereby notified that upon trial of this cause the finder of fact may be instructed to consider murder in the second degree (firearm enhancement) contrary to §30-2-1(B) and § 3l-18-l6, NMSA 1978, or manslaughter(firearm enhancement), contrary to 3§ 0-2-3 and § 3l-18-l6, NMSA 1978.

From Wikipedia on the James Boyd shooting:

James Boyd was fatally shot by Albuquerque Police Department officers Keith Sands and Dominique Perez on the evening of Sunday, March 16, 2014 in the Sandia Mountains. Albuquerque Police Department officers responded to a report of a homeless mentally ill man, James Boyd, camping in foothills. After an hours long standoff, Boyd, who was carrying two camping knives, was fired on with rifles by the two officers, being hit three times in the back and arm and missed another three times. Boyd was at least 10 feet away from the officers.

Officers responded to the foothills where Boyd was allegedly camping illegally. After approximately five hours of negotiations, the police officers launched a flash bang grenade as Boyd, still holding his camping knives, picked up his backpack and turned. One officer approached Boyd and appeared to be several feet way from him. Two officers (Detective Keith Sandy and SWAT Officer Dominique Perez) fired six rounds from their rifles, hitting Boyd in the back and arm with three rounds. Boyd fell to the ground, an officer released a police dog while other officers shot him with bean bag rounds and handcuffed him. As Boyd was on the ground,he said “I can’t move” and “Please don’t hurt me.” The shooting was captured via a helmet-mounted camera by the policemen at scene and released to the public.

There is another good decision Brandenburg should make: appoint a special prosecutor outside her office to take the case from here. She has been under investigation by APD for possible bribery or intimidation of a witness in connection with a burglary investigation of her son. In fact, detectives found there was probable cause to file charges but forwarded the case to the state Attorney General’s Office for review. Brandenburg said she had basically decided to charge the officers before she learned of the investigation. But at this point, handing over the case against Sandy and Perez would remove any hint of a conflict of interest that could delay or otherwise interfere with the case.

Editorial: Boyd Charges Right Call but DA Should Step Aside

Video: APD Officer Makes Remark about Shooting James Boyd Before the Shooting:

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