The local U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release that career prosecutors determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that officer Dominique Perez and now-retired Detective Keith Sandy violated federal law when they fatally shot James Boyd in the Sandia foothills in March 2014. The two men were charged with murder in state court but the case ended in a mistrial last October.
Shannon Kennedy, an attorney for the Boyd family, said Andrew Jones, Boyd’s brother, listened via Skype to a presentation Tuesday from Justice Department attorneys about why federal authorities weren’t bringing charges against Perez and Sandy.
“They gave a very astute legal analysis … of the difficulty of a federal criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers,” she said. “One can only be forever grateful that we live in a democracy where the government looks at investigating police officers who violently kill a citizen.”
To bring federal charges against an officer for an on-duty shooting, prosecutors must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer “willfully” deprived an individual of a constitutional right. That high burden means there must be proof an officer knew his or her actions were unlawful, but did them anyway, according to the release.
“The evidence, when viewed as whole, indicates that the officers fired only after reasonably perceiving that Boyd posed a serious threat of physical harm to a fellow officer,” the release states. “At the time of the shooting, Boyd was brandishing two knives and was in close proximity to a canine handler.”
The city of Albuquerque settled a lawsuit brought by Boyd’s family for $5 million. His family subsequently donated $100,000 each to St. Martin’s Hospitality Center and Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, which are agencies that assist local homeless people.
An on-body camera recording of the shooting showed Boyd had gathered up some of his belonging and was turning away when he was shot. The video’s release led to public outcry and protests in the streets.
APD Forward, a collection of community groups that advocate for Albuquerque police reform, “expressed disappointment but not surprise” at the decision not to bring charges.
The month after the Boyd shooting, the Department of Justice released a report that found Albuquerque police had a pattern of using excessive force. That investigation spurred a years-long reform effort that is still underway by Albuquerque police.
“Regardless of what happened formally in the halls of criminal justice in Albuquerque, you cannot deny that his … death galvanized this community to make lasting changes that I believe save lives,” Kennedy said.
Albuquerque police Chief Gorden Eden, who called the shooting “justified” days after it happened but then backtracked amid criticism, said the department has improved in recent years and cited the department’s compliance with reforms.
“As a community we have grown from this difficult event. APD has worked hard to improve our policies around use of force and behavioral health reform. We are the first in the nation to ensure our field officers are Crisis Intervention trained, and we are now a national leader in helping those suffering from mental health crisis.”