Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
The Albuquerque Police Department’s release Friday of a video showing part of a five-hour standoff and eventual shooting by APD of an illegal camper in the Sandia foothills has prompted a massive response from city residents, most of whom strongly criticized the officers’ actions.
Residents took to social media, talk radio and local news media comment forums in droves Friday and Saturday to weigh in on APD’s fatal confrontation with 38-year-old James M. Boyd last Sunday, with many commenters saying that the shooting was excessive and that they mistrust APD.
“How in the world can anybody justify this?” asked one Journal reader. “… This poor guy belonged in jail or a psych unit, not a morgue.”
City Councilor Isaac Benton said in an interview that he was concerned, not only by the video, but by Police Chief Gorden Eden’s comments that the shooting was justified.
“I wasn’t there (at the scene of the shooting) but, from what I saw on the video, it’s very concerning to me, and I don’t understand why the chief would be coming out so strongly and saying it was justified,” Benton told the Journal in a phone interview Saturday. “… For him to jump out in front and start talking legalisms that this thing is justified, that makes it very hard to answer all these citizens who are questioning. That’s exactly what we should not be doing.”
Albuquerque police said Saturday that the chief’s characterization of the officer-involved shooting as “justified” was a preliminary opinion based on the initial findings of the investigation into the shooting and that the department’s “final findings will be based upon the entire analysis” of evidence at the end of the investigation.
Eden held a news conference Friday, during which he released the video that was taken from a police helmet camera and described the shooting as justified.
Few defend shooting
Of more than 200 comments posted under a link to Friday’s story and video on the Journal’s Facebook page and website, the vast majority criticized APD. But a few defended the shooting, pointing out that Boyd was armed with knives and that he had a criminal history.
Billy “Fat Back” Cornelius devoted an hour of his call-in, radio talk show on KKOB-AM on Friday evening to the video and received more than two dozen calls. Just one caller was “100 percent” in support of officers’ actions, Cornelius told the Journal, and only a couple of others were undecided.
In the video, Boyd gathered his things and began descending a hill, apparently because he believed he had reached an agreement with police to end the standoff peacefully. Officers are seen throwing a flash grenade at Boyd’s feet. Boyd dropped his backpack and drew two small blades out of his sweater’s front pocket before appearing to wave them. Boyd had wielded the blades in each hand at points throughout the standoff.
Police yell at him to get on the ground and Boyd starts turning away from 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, not moving.
Officers then fired bean-bag rounds at him and let loose a police dog, which grabs his leg and shakes it. He still lies motionless. Officers reach him and handcuff him. Boyd died the next day at a hospital.
During the Friday news conference, Eden said that he felt officers were justified in their use of lethal force because of a “directed threat” to an officer.
“Do I believe it was a justified shooting? Yes,” Eden told reporters. “If you follow case law Garner vs. Tennessee, there was a directed threat to an officer.”
Eden said the threat came when Boyd pulled out the two knives and directed them at the nearby K-9 officer.
“It was when the K-9 officer was down directing the K-9 that the suspect pulled out two knives and directed a threat to the K-9 officer who had no weapons drawn, he was handling the dog,” the chief said.
In response to Benton’s criticism, the department issued the following statement:
“The opinion expressed (Friday) is clearly a preliminary opinion based on the information known as of (Friday’s) briefing,” the statement reads. “As was clear from the chief’s answers, the investigation is still in the preliminary phase and final findings will be based upon the entire analysis of the evidence, and a thorough review of the statements and final investigation.”
Police had arrived to get Boyd out of the foothills after getting a 911 call from a resident who said Boyd had been sleeping there illegally and he was concerned.
Boyd has a criminal history in Albuquerque that goes back as far as 2001, including several arrests on charges of violence against police officers. In one instance in 2010, police said, Boyd struck a female officer and broke her nose.
City Councilor Don Harris and other prominent Albuquerque residents weighed in on the video Saturday.
Harris, who represents the district where the shooting happened, said the video made him concerned about APD officer training, especially when it comes to officers dealing with those with mental illnesses. APD dispatchers told officers responding to the foothills Sunday that Boyd possibly had paranoid schizophrenia and that two criminal cases have been dropped against him in recent years because of his mental incompetency, according to online court records.
“It seemed awful sad to me,” Harris said of his reaction to the video. “It seems like we need to have better training for people with mental illness. It just seemed unnecessary.” Other city councilors did not respond to requests for comment by Friday afternoon, except for Councilor Trudy Jones who said she hadn’t seen the video.
Albuquerque police union president Stephanie Lopez urged caution in drawing conclusions too soon, saying that the video doesn’t show the whole story and allows viewers to slow down and deliberate on a fast-moving, dynamic situation.
“Remember that it’s easy to look at lapel video footage and not see everything else that was occurring around it at the same time,” Lopez said. “You’re only getting a small window vision of where that angle of the camera was pointed at that time.”
Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry also urged caution in deciding about the shooting this early, saying that the shooting was an “incredibly dynamic situation.” He also said it wasn’t the role of the Mayor’s Office to make any judgment about whether a shooting is justified.
Mayor Richard Berry was out of town and unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman said.
“This case was an incredibly dynamic situation that involved a standoff for four hours with an individual that had a history of mental instability, threats of violence against police officers … and numerous attempts to end the situation peacefully,” Perry said. “… At the end of the day, a determination about the justification of use of force by law enforcement, officer safety considerations and legal determinations are made by those people who are responsible to make them.”