Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
James M. Boyd seemed to think he had a deal. The 38-year-old homeless man – whose illegal camping in the foothills had drawn Albuquerque police – told officers on Sunday that he was ready to walk off the mountain. Instead, he was carried off, fatally wounded after officers opened fire. Boyd, in a long confrontation with police, ended up face down in the dirt, a splotch of blood visible on his back, a police dog on his leg. He held a knife in each hand.
But before that, there appeared to be a chance he’d cooperate, according to video released by APD on Friday. “All right, don’t change up the agreement,” Boyd says, as officers have their guns trained on him. “I’m going to try to walk with you.” Boyd picks up his backpack and belongings, and he looks ready to start walking. There are no knives in his hands at this point. “Do it!” an officer says on the video.
A flash-bang device is thrown at Boyd’s feet, disorienting him. Officers yell at him to get on the ground, and a dog and officer approach him. Boyd takes two knives out of his pockets and appears to wave them. Then Boyd 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.
Officers fire bean-bag rounds at him as he’s on the ground, then let loose a police dog, which grabs his leg and shakes it. He doesn’t move. Then officers approach and cuff him, blood on the rock above him. He died the next day at the hospital.
Police Chief Gorden Eden released video of the incident during a Friday afternoon news conference. Much of it comes from an officer’s helmet camera. The shooting was justified, Eden said, because Boyd, holding knives, threatened an officer and the use of “less-than-lethal” devices hadn’t worked, he said.
“Do I believe it was a justified shooting? Yes,” Eden told reporters. “If you follow case law … there was a directed threat to an officer.” Boyd had a criminal history going back almost 20 years, Eden said. He had spent time in both the Doña Ana and Bernalillo county jails, the chief said. In one incident, Eden said, Boyd punched and broke an officer’s nose as she talked to him in an Albuquerque library.
“All of his charges have been violent,” Eden told reporters. Officers arriving on scene were told that Boyd had an “extensive history” of violence against police officers, that he was possibly diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and that he was a transient. Eden said two officers, Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, fired three rounds each during the encounter. Sandy is a detective with APD’s Repeat Offender Project. He joined APD after he was fired by State Police amid allegations of double dipping on pay.
At least one bullet struck Boyd, though Eden said it’s not clear whether that’s what killed him because medical investigators haven’t released a cause of death. Police haven’t been able to locate a next of kin for Boyd. A multi-jurisdictional team is investigating the shooting, Eden said. Forty witnesses, many of whom only heard the incident, have been interviewed so far and “we’re not finished,” the chief said.
Eden’s first incident
The shooting is the first since Eden took over as APD chief late last month. Albuquerque police have shot and killed 22 men since the beginning of 2010, counting Sunday’s incident. The city’s police force is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is examining whether APD has a “pattern or practice” of violating people’s rights, specifically through the use of force.
One of the videos shown by Eden on Friday shows the beginning of the encounter with Boyd. Officers were dispatched on a “suspicious person’s call,” the chief said. Boyd was sleeping or lying under something when officers approached. He came out from beneath the cover and “as the officers began to talk to him, he threatened the officers with knives,” Eden said.
On the video, officers order Boyd repeatedly to drop the knives. According to dispatch logs released Friday, Boyd threw a rock at officers about 20 minutes before shots were fired. Boyd talks almost constantly during parts of the encounter. Eden said Boyd identified himself as an agent for the Department of Defense and other agencies. “I’ve been calling you all for five months,” Boyd can be heard saying on the video.
Eden said that Boyd asked for State Police to come to the scene. A State Police officer did and “he stated that the suspect threatened to kill him also,” Eden said. An APD crisis-intervention officer also spoke to Boyd, Eden said. Sometime later, Boyd appears to decide he’s ready to leave and he seems to think it’s part of an agreement with the officers. He also suggests it’s the officers who are the threat, not himself.
“In the private world, if you were down at a bar or a bus stop, I have the right to kill you right now because you’re trying to take me over,” Boyd says. “Don’t get stupid with me.” An officer responds: “We’re not going to get stupid.” Boyd then says he’s going to “walk with you. … Keep your word. I can keep you safe. Don’t worry about safety. I’m not a (expletive) murderer.” He picks up his backpack, officers use the flash bang and he pulls out the knives. About 10 seconds later, as Boyd appears to turn away, officers fire at him.
Eden said the officers fired a Taser shotgun round at Boyd as the dog was deployed. Eden said Boyd had “two open-bladed knives in his hands,” even as officers handcuffed him on the ground. Officers then used the barrels of their guns to pick over his belongings, located nearby under a clear tarp.
“The suspect did, in fact, make a decision not to follow the directions that were provided to him by the officers,” Eden said. “… On many occasions, he threatened officers. On many occasions, he refused to follow the direct commands of the officers.”
During the news conference, Eden took questions from reporters for four minutes before a public information officer tried to end the briefing. Eden responded to questions for about two more minutes before leaving. In a brief interview outside the conference room, the Journal asked Eden why officers didn’t spend more time trying to wait out Boyd – what changed that led them to take the action they did.
Eden said they couldn’t wait because Boyd was moving to leave and officers couldn’t contain him in the area because of the rugged terrain. “We still had hikers in the area,” Eden said. “We did not have a way as we normally do to be able to establish a strong outer perimeter because of the rocks, the hills, the loss of line of sight.”
Journal staff writer Patrick Lohmann contributed to this report.