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Hundreds protest police shooting of homeless man

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Mariee McCoy, center, of Albuquerque holds a sign during a protest that started at First and Central and marched to APD headquarters Tuesday. Chanting protesters denounced the shooting of James Boyd by Albuquerque police officers on March 16. In a separate gathering, some former members of the Police Oversight Task Force condemned the shooting and urged the city to adopt all of their recommendations. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Mariee McCoy, center, of Albuquerque holds a sign during a protest that started at First and Central and marched to APD headquarters Tuesday. Chanting protesters denounced the shooting of James Boyd by Albuquerque police officers on March 16. In a separate gathering, some former members of the Police Oversight Task Force condemned the shooting and urged the city to adopt all of their recommendations. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —

Shooting James Boyd was a crime.

That was the message repeated over and over at an emotional protest attended by hundreds of people Tuesday in Downtown Albuquerque over the March 16 shooting of a mentally ill homeless man.

Officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez fired three rounds each at the 38-year-old Boyd, who police say was camping illegally in the Sandia foothills. Boyd died the next morning at the hospital.

Police have said Boyd repeatedly threatened them during an hourslong standoff and was armed with knives.

Helmet-cam footage released by the department shows Boyd turning away from officers when he was shot, and he appeared to believe he had an agreement with police as he gathered his belongings and started to walk down a small hill.

Police said a Crisis Intervention Team officer earlier had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Boyd, who had a lengthy criminal history that included assaults on law enforcement officers.

The video, which has been seen around the country, has re-ignited criticism of APD, which already is under civil investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for its use of force. The police department has shot and killed 22 men since 2010.

Protesters Tuesday marched down Central Avenue and Third Street to APD headquarters, blocking traffic and carrying signs with messages such as “Justice for James Boyd” and “Jail Killer Cops.” One featured an elaborate painting of APD’s logo, with a silhouette of Boyd being shot while turning away in place of the city’s skyline. “They’ve got your back,” it read.

“The people united can jail killer cops,” a crowd of hundreds chanted.

But in the Downtown area usually laden with police, only one marked police unit could be seen flitting to and from the front of the march. “Shame on you,” a few protesters yelled at the two officers inside.

Hundreds of protesters march north on Fifth Street in downtown during a protest on Tuesday of the latest officer-involved shooting by the Albuquerque Police Department. (Greg Sorber,Albuquerque Journal)

Hundreds of protesters march north on Fifth Street in downtown during a protest on Tuesday of the latest officer-involved shooting by the Albuquerque Police Department. (Greg Sorber,Albuquerque Journal)

APD spokeswoman Tasia Martinez said police escorted the march.

“APD was in contact with the protest coordinators to make sure we had communication and could assist in making sure that the protesters were able to safely walk through downtown and exercise their 1st amendment rights peacefully,” Martinez wrote in an email late Tuesday.

March organizers called for the officers to be indicted for the shooting. Mock warrants asking for Sandy’s and Perez’s arrests by the citizens of Albuquerque, as well as the arrests of the police chief and mayor, were thrown into the crowd. And a Kennedy Law Firm representative said she would try to file a class action suit against the department on behalf of people with mentally ill loved ones who “are terrified” of being shot by police.

Protesters carried a black coffin adorned with the names of every person fatally shot by APD officers, leaving it resting at the department’s front doors along with signs that read “Another Person Dead” and “Protect and serve who?”

The protest drew people from well beyond the city.

“Albuquerque is one of the epicenters of police shootings. You can’t talk about the national issue without talking about where it’s the worst,” said Mike Prysner, an Iraq war veteran who drove from Los Angeles to attend the protest with a group of people. “We don’t travel often, but I’m disgusted by the murder of an innocent man.”

For families of the victims, the protest – by far the largest of its kind in Albuquerque in recent memory – served as vindication of what they said they have been fighting for for years.

“I think it’s about damn time, it’s very touching and dear to my heart, it brings tears to my eyes,” said Kenneth Ellis II, whose son was shot and killed by police, as he walked ahead of the march. “It took the flat-out video capturing of Mr. Boyd being murdered, that really struck a chord with everyone. It’s about time this city woke up to the type of police department we have.”

Albuquerque chief administrative officer Rob Perry issued a statement in response to the protesters that said, “We recognize their right to peacefully protest.”

Karen Velasquez of Albuquerque holds up a sign protesting Albuquerque Police Department officers during a protest that started at First and Central and marched to APD headquarters on Tuesday, March 25, 2013. (Greg Sorber,Albuquerque Journal)

Karen Velasquez of Albuquerque holds up a sign protesting Albuquerque Police Department officers during a protest that started at First and Central and marched to APD headquarters on Tuesday, March 25, 2013. (Greg Sorber,Albuquerque Journal)

Mayor Richard Berry earlier this week said he has asked the Department of Justice to specifically review the Boyd shooting. He also said Police Chief Gorden Eden’s characterization of the shooting as “justified” last week was premature, but he urged people not to judge the officers until the case has been fully investigated.

Several city councilors on both sides of the aisle also called for a federal investigation, and the Justice Department will meet with community leaders requesting the same today. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the governor expressed their concern.

Also on Tuesday, some former members of the Police Oversight Task Force, which recently submitted recommendations for an overhaul of the city’s civilian police oversight board, gathered earlier on Civic Plaza to condemn the shooting and urge councilors to adopt all of their recommendations, particularly one that would allow the Police Oversight Commission to recommend policy proposals to the chief of police.

The task force recommendations, if adopted, would also require the chief to write a reason for rejecting the policy proposal, if that’s what he or she chooses to do.

“It is absolutely necessary that there be effective civilian police oversight,” said Alan Wagman, a former task force member, who urged the council to adopt the recommendations with “as little change as possible.”

But even the most effective civilian oversight board is powerless to make the department take moral, not just legal, responsibility for the conduct of its officers, Wagman said.

“They also have a responsibility to the city morally,” he said, blasting “legalistic” justifications for shooting, which he said police provide after these types of incidents. “If our city officials cannot see what happened was morally wrong, then nothing will change.”

Eden came under fire after he said he thought the shooting was justified by case law five days afterward, but he later said that was a “premature” comment. He walked out of that press conference while reporters were still asking him questions, leaving many unanswered.

Sandy is a member of APD’s Repeat Offender Project, which goes after the city’s career criminals. APD said Monday that ROP assistance was requested because of its training in nonlethal force, specifically Tasers.

Journal Staff Writer Patrick Lohmann contributed to this report.

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