At the abrupt end to his news conference to talk about the fatal shooting by police of mentally ill transient James Boyd, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said, “We’re good” before walking out.
No, Chief. We’re not good.
Your officers blew it, it’s caught on videotape, it’s gone viral and people are calling it an execution.
Eden called the news conference — finally — five days after Boyd was killed. He showed a video, taken from a camera mounted on an officer’s helmet, of the final few minutes of an hourslong standoff in the Sandia Foothills. It began when Open Space officers roused Boyd from a makeshift campsite he had set up and tried to question him about illegally camping out in the foothills open space. Boyd came out from his bedding and pulled a small knife, and a standoff began.
The video of the last minutes clearly shows Boyd has agreed to walk out with police, shouldering his backpack and picking up some of his belongings. He is complying with police and has both his hands full — no weapons — when an officer lobs a flash-bang grenade, someone says, “Do it” and the police dog charges.
In an instant, Boyd drops his belongings, throws off his backpack and grabs two pocket knives. The officers close in on him and he is turning away from police when officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez each fire three shots.
Eden: “Do I believe it was a justified shooting? Yes.”
He cites a U.S. Supreme Court case, Tennessee vs. Garner, as the authority for the officers’ use of lethal force.
That case, resulting from a Memphis officer shooting a young, unarmed burglary suspect who was jumping a fence to get away, concluded it was unconstitutional to use lethal force against a fleeing, unarmed suspect. But the court also said this: “Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.
“Thus, if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if, where feasible, some warning has been given.”
Did Boyd threaten an officer with a weapon? Had he committed a crime in which he threatened serious physical harm? Was he escaping? Was he warned that shots were coming?
Not in the video I saw.
So why kill him then, Chief?
Eden says he saw an immediate threat: “It was when the canine officer was down directing the canine dog that the suspect pulled out the two knives and directed a threat to the canine officer who had no weapons drawn.”
Unless Eden has a secret tape he’s not sharing with us, that’s hard to buy. Just about everyone else who’s watched the video APD chose to release has seen a disoriented guy standing with his knives held out near his hips, and then beginning to turn away.
What we saw is a mishandled arrest attempt. APD had defused a confrontation with an agitated mentally ill man. It had calmed him down and got him to pack up to walk out when police became the aggressors. From there, the situation devolved right back to where it started, with Boyd standing his ground on a steep slope and holding his knives.
Eden also said Boyd chose to not comply with officers’ orders to get on the ground.
In the video I saw, Boyd was beginning to make a turning move away from police. It’s possible he had been hit by a Taser. It’s possible he stumbled. It’s possible he was trying to run. It’s also possible he was complying with the officers’ orders to get down on the ground; he turned toward the uphill slope, which is exactly how one would get to the ground in that terrain.
Lots of people who watched that video — from the mayor to the governor to the state attorney general, to city councilors to sickened members of the general public, many of whom gathered downtown on Tuesday night to chant “Jail killer cops!” — have seen something concerning and said so.
But not Eden. After he was taken to the woodshed by the mayor for calling the shooting justified, all he had to proffer was that he spoke too soon.
This is the new police chief who is going restore the public’s confidence and lead APD out of a Department of Justice investigation and into a new era?
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or email@example.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.