The video is shocking and disturbing. Sickening is not too strong a word.
So it is appropriate that Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry is asking the U.S. Justice Department to add the March 16 fatal shooting of a homeless man who was camping illegally in the Sandia Foothills to its investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department. In fact, it’s the least he could have done, and it should have been coupled with a statement that the shooting recorded on police video was unacceptable. And that changes can and will be made.
This did not take place in a vacuum. In light of APD’s history of double digit officer-involved shootings and other use of force incidents over the last few years, the DOJ is investigating whether APD has a pattern of civil rights violations and misuse of force.
Berry also has asked the Las Cruces Police Department to join the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department and the State Police in an inter-agency investigation of the shooting. The Justice Department has agreed to look at that investigation when it is completed.
These are important actions that could help assuage a worried and angry public by alleviating concerns of a whitewashed internal investigation and/or a bailout by the district attorney. Both practices that have been all too common.
For residents already skeptical of APD’s versions of various officer-involved shootings, the video of the shooting of James M. Boyd confirms their worst beliefs about APD.
The closing moments in video of a five-hour standoff show Boyd, just before being shot, gathering some of his possessions in rocky terrain in an apparent capitulation to police who have cornered him. Then a flash-bang device is set off. He drops his backpack and retrieves two small knives out of his pockets. Officers yell at him to get on the ground, and as he turns away from them shots ring out and he falls to the ground. Then, bean bag projectiles are fired at him, and a dog is sicced on him.
He was hospitalized and died the next day.
The video touched off an angry response in the form of letters to the Journal, postings on social media and a protest march last night. The outrage has been local and national.
Some city councilors are calling for actions that range from an outside investigation to a federal government takeover of APD.
New APD Chief Gorden Eden added fuel to the fire on Friday by characterizing the shooting as “justified” by case law during a Friday news conference at which the video was released. Faced with questions from reporters, he beat a hasty retreat after about four minutes.
On Monday, the mayor said Eden’s comments were premature. Eden agreed.
With APD’s history of double digit officer-involved shootings that resulted in death since early 2010 and the record so far of the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office clearing all the cases it has reviewed, it’s doubtful many residents will accept this one as a “good shoot” – especially if it comes from an internal investigation. The word “murder” has been used more than once in citizens’ reactions.
Even before the Boyd shooting, APD’s credibility was severely damaged. Now, some residents are expressing new fear of the police officers who are charged with protecting them.
Eden, who was selected by Berry in part to right that ship, has some serious self-inflicted credibility damage as a result of this incident and his reaction. Only time will tell if he can recover from that.
For the sake of the community and the police department itself, APD must change its culture, whether through firings, better training or more severe punishments against officers who use excessive force.
This type of behavior cannot be allowed to continue.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.