A helmet-camera video recording of police in Albuquerque, N.M., fatally shooting a homeless man has local officials, citizens and rights groups calling for a thorough investigation of the city’s police department, whose chief stirred further controversy by calling the shooting “justified.”
The video, released by the APD on Friday and later posted to YouTube by local TV station KQRE, captures the March 16 shooting of James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who police had sought to detain for camping in an unauthorized area of the Albuquerque foothills, police chief Gordon Eden said Friday during a press conference.
After three hours of confrontation, Boyd appeared to relent as he gathered his belongings and walked toward the officers, when one officer suddenly fired a flashbang at Boyd, prompting him to pull out a knife, police said. The two officers involved in the shooting, Dominque Perez and Keith Sandy, then fired multiple rounds into Boyd, who fell to the ground.
He was later taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead a day later.
Eden later stirred further controversy by jumping to the defense of his officers, who he insisted were “justified” in their actions.
“Do I believe it was a justified shooting? Yes, if you follow case law, ‘Garner versus Tennessee,’ there was a directed threat to an officer,” Eden said.
Rights advocates and some city officials have called that assessment into question, arguing that the shooting was avoidable and that the officers should be investigated for excessive use of force.
“I am disturbed and I am troubled by what I saw,” said Ken Sanchez, president of the Albuquerque City Council. “What alarms me the most is that the chief would come out so quickly and make comments that justify this shooting.”
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry echoed that criticism in an interview with KRQE on Monday, calling Eden’s comments “a mistake.”
“And I’ve talked to chief about that, and I think he understands that was a mistake. It’s not our job to make judgments at this point,” Berry said.
Berry and other local leaders called for the Boyd shooting to be added to the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation of the APD. The DOJ is looking into “whether APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law.”
ProgressNow, which works on a range of advocacy issues in New Mexico, has pointed to the APD’s alleged history of excessive force, noting that its officers have shot 36 people — including 22 fatally — since 2010. The figure is higher than that of the New York Police Department, which operates in a city sixteen-times larger than Albuquerque.
“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,” Patrick Davis, ProgressNow's executive director and a former police officer, told the Huffington Post.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has also weighed in on the incident, but she has not commented on whether Eden’s statement on Friday was inappropriate.
“I can certainly understand why people would be concerned and that it’s more important for there to be a thorough investigation of what led to the call and the steps of every single officer that was present,” Martinez said.
Local media have also reported that officer Sandy was fired from New Mexico State Police in 2007 over accusations that he was earning a separate income doing private security work while also serving on the police force. When Sandy joined the APD, police said he would be a civilian employee who would neither carry a gun nor wear a badge.