SANTA FE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Mayor Richard Berry called it “horrific” and “unsettling.”
Several city councilors – on both sides of the aisle – said they were disturbed by what they saw.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a former district judge and the governor also weighed in.
Each called for a thorough, independent investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department’s shooting of a mentally ill homeless man, James M. Boyd, who was caught illegally camping in the Sandia foothills last week.
Video released by APD on Friday showed officers firing at the man, who was armed with two knives but appeared to be turning away from officers when shots rang out.
Debate over the shooting didn’t end at the New Mexico line, either, as the video attracted national attention. Viewers from across the nation commented on the video, which was picked up by the Los Angeles Times, the New York Daily News and other news organizations.
“I’ve seen the portion of video that the public has seen,” Berry said in an interview on Monday. “It’s horrific. It’s unsettling.”
Berry said the U.S. Department of Justice ought to look at the shooting and his administration has already offered to send over the information.
Federal investigators announced in November 2012 that they are examining whether APD has a pattern or practice of violating people’s civil rights, specifically through the use of force. Justice Department officials will be in Albuquerque on Wednesday to meet with community activists, who requested the meeting after the Boyd shooting.
“I think this is a circumstance they need to take a look at and make a determination on their side,” Berry said.
Justice Department officials have told the city to finish its investigation and forward its results.
Berry also wants the Las Cruces Police Department to join the investigative team that will review the incident, providing another set of independent eyes, he said. County sheriff’s deputies, State Police and APD are already investigating the shooting, which is standard practice.
The city’s Independent Review Office and the Police Oversight Commission, an appointed body, also monitor every shooting investigation handled by APD’s Internal Affairs Unit, under city ordinance.
Police shootings also are reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office, which decides if criminal charges will be filed against officers.
Berry said his office has asked prosecutors and the IRO to expedite its investigations.
The mayor also said Monday that his new police chief, Gorden Eden, spoke prematurely last week when he described the shooting as justified.
Eden, according to a statement late Monday, agreed. “I realize that my comment on Friday was premature. I was caught off guard by the question. … I want to be clear that I am fully committed to the investigative process and any finding of justification will only be determined after the investigation has been completed,” he said.
Berry also said it’s too soon to condemn the officers.
“I think it’d be a mistake for me or anyone in elected office to judge the situation before we have the full investigation done,” Berry said. But “I have the same emotional reaction as a lot of people when they see the video.”
Threats of harm
The video that’s generated so much attention shows parts of an hourslong police standoff with Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man with a history of violence against officers. He was armed with two knives during the fatal confrontation with police on March 16.
Eden said Boyd threatened to harm officers and there were hikers in the area.
The chief released video from a helmet-mounted camera worn by one of the officers. It shows Boyd, at one point, appearing to agree to come down out of the foothills with officers. He appears to put his knives away and gather his stuff.
Police then throw a flash-bang device at Boyd’s feet. Boyd takes two knives out of his pockets and appears to wave them.
Then he starts turning away from the officers. That’s when shots ring out and he hits the ground.
Officers continue to yell at him to drop the knives.
“Please don’t hurt me anymore. I can’t move,” Boyd says as he lies on the ground.
City Council President Ken Sanchez, a Democrat, said he’s considering whether to introduce legislation asking the Department of Justice to oversee APD.
The more immediate concern, he said, is that the council should ask the DOJ to expedite its investigation and the city should commit to following the DOJ’s recommendations.
“I was disturbed and troubled by what I saw in the video,” Sanchez said Monday, “and I was alarmed that the police chief would come out so quickly in making statements that the shooting was justified.”
City Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican who was the first councilor years ago to call for the DOJ to examine APD, said the video is “shocking.”
“I’m disturbed by it just like everybody else who’s watched it,” Lewis said. “It’s obviously not the outcome that anybody would believe was the best outcome. I don’t think even those officers would say that’s the best outcome (regardless of) whether they did something right or wrong.”
Brad Winter, a Republican and the senior member of the City Council, said the video raises a host of questions.
“It is very, very disturbing,” Winter said of the video. “You have everybody in the city wondering what in the heck is going on.”
No rush to judgment
The video attracted plenty of attention outside City Hall, too.
Steven Robert Allen, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the video raises “serious questions about why this tragedy couldn’t be avoided. … Until the APD addresses its ongoing problems regarding the use of force, it will never be able to regain the trust of the citizens it serves.”
A former state district judge, Anne Kass, said her neighborhood was abuzz with talk about the shooting Monday morning, but she said she “couldn’t make myself” watch the video.
However, she said, “I don’t understand why five police officers with guns 20 feet away from a man with a knife think it’s appropriate to shoot the man.
“You talk about self-defense in criminal law, that self-defense is something you can use if you are in reasonable belief that your life is threatened, so there has to be a threat and a capacity to carry out of the threat. If you’ve got a four-inch knife and you’re 20 feet away from someone with a rifle, you’re not a threat.”
She said she was disappointed that Eden wasn’t doing things differently than his predecessors.
“Mostly I was disheartened by how quickly the new chief was singing the same tune that (former Chief Ray) Schultz was singing,” Kass said. “I had thought that because there was such an outcry about violence and the police force … that played a role in Schultz’s retirement. It seems to me that Berry should know that this played a role, and he should have made a point to restore confidence and trust in the police.”
Gov. Susana Martinez said she watched the video several times.
“I can certainly understand why people would be concerned,” Martinez said, “and so I think that’s why it’s more important for there to be a thorough investigation of the steps that led to the call” and how officers responded.
But there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment before then, she said.
How the shooting will factor into the U.S. Department of Justice investigation isn’t clear. But representatives of the Civil Rights Division of DOJ and the local U.S. Attorney’s Office will meet with local activists later this week, at the request of Jewel Hall, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center
Journal staff writer Rosalie Rayburn contributed to this report.