ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque police had intended to arrest James Boyd on assault charges before nightfall when they fired on him with lethal and non-lethal force, the two officers who shot Boyd said in interviews after the shooting.
Boyd died the day after the confrontation. Video of the incident sparked street protests and brought national attention on APD, which was already under investigation for violating civil rights through its use of force.
During the attempted arrest at sunset, Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez shot Boyd a total of three times, fatally wounding him. Audio of their interviews with an Albuquerque police detective investigating the shooting were obtained by reporters last week.
Boyd was illegally camping in the Sandia foothills when he was first approached by officers on March 16. Police said he threatened the responding officers with a knife, which is why police wanted to arrest him and not just get him to leave the area, Sandy said.
Police negotiated with him for more than four hours.
Sandy said a police supervisor told the arrest team to take Boyd into custody before nightfall. Sandy was part of the arrest team, and Perez, a tactical operations officer, was covering them with a rifle.
“In order to contain him on that hillside, in the dark, it would have been impossible,” Sandy said. “Trying to keep track of his movement and maintain him in that darkness, with the rocks and the trees and cactuses up there, would have been impossible.”
Perez said the location affected the police response. Had it been in the city, officers could have used headlights on vehicles and portable lights, and continued to negotiate into the night. But because of the rugged terrain, that wasn’t possible, he said.
“If it progressed into night time, it was going to be very hard to see him,” Perez said. “He could duck down behind the rocks.”
A wrongful death lawsuit filed last week against the city of Albuquerque and the police department by Boyd’s family stated that there wasn’t consensus among officers on scene whether or not Boyd had committed aggravated assault on a police officer.
The lawsuit references conversations between police officers as they tried to determine if Boyd had committed assault on an officer, which is a third-degree felony. The suit states that most officers there didn’t think there was enough evidence to arrest Boyd on those charges.
“Clearly, too many of the 41 responding officers were not properly trained to recognize that Mr. Boyd, suffering from delusions, lacked the mental capacity to commit an aggravated battery on a police officer,” the lawsuit states.
APD spokeswoman Janet Blair said Boyd had two prior arrests for aggravated assault on a police officer.
“Was there probable cause to arrest him when he was waving knives? I would suspect there was,” she said.
She declined to comment on the decision to arrest Boyd before dark, citing an ongoing internal investigation.
Sandy and Perez also said in interviews that Boyd had the advantage of higher ground. Sandy said he feared Boyd was about to attack him or other officers with the knives. Perez said he used lethal force because he feared his fellow officers were in danger.
“I made the decision, because of the proximity of the knives, that I was going to engage him with my rifle,” Sandy said in his interview.
Officers first used a flash-bang device and a Taser gun, but Sandy and Perez said it didn’t appear to have an effect. In the video of the incident, the gunfire occurred seconds after the Taser was fired.
An autopsy showed that Boyd was shot once in the back, once through the back of one arm and once through the front of the other arm.
Sandy said that, as he prepared to shoot, Boyd started to turn around to his left.
“As I was processing it in my mind, I perceived him as changing his position, attempting to flank us to get around from where he was standing to a different position where the dog wasn’t between him and us,” he said.
Video of the Boyd shooting captured by a camera worn by one of the officers sparked outcry. People critical of APD continue to use Boyd’s picture as an example of Albuquerque police violence.
The shooting happened shortly before the Department of Justice issued a report on its investigation that found APD had a practice of violating civil rights through its use of force. APD officers have shot and killed 26 people since the beginning of 2010.
Perez is on administrative assignment because of the shooting, and Sandy is on administrative leave, Blair said.
Sandy is the only police officer involved in an officer-involved shooting in 2014 who has not returned to work.