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APD’s tragic ‘game changer’: Keith Sandy

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Over the years, retired APD Detective Keith Sandy has surfaced in the news from time to time, giving the public a less-than-favorable impression. To police department critics he is an example of the Wild West mentality of law enforcement that has plagued APD.

Keith Sandy

Keith Sandy.

To people who worked with him he was a cop who wrote good reports, worked long hours and didn’t get use-of-force complaints filed against him. Former supervisors told the Journal they had to send Sandy home at night so he wouldn’t fall asleep at his desk while working on cases.

“If something happened to a loved one of yours, he was the detective you wanted tracking the bad guys down,” said retired APD Sgt. Matt Thompson.

Sandy’s record is clean on use of force.

Prior to James Boyd’s death, Sandy had never shot anyone in 19 years as a police officer. He never had a sustained excessive force complaint at APD, which he joined in 2007 after working for the State Police.

Sandy was placed on administrative leave after the Boyd shooting in March and never went back to work as a police officer. He retired in November.

He has not been a frequent target of lawsuits.

Sandy is a defendant in a pending civil rights lawsuit filed by an inmate convicted on drug charges who alleges Sandy and other detectives trumped up the drug case against him – a claim a state judge threw out in the criminal case.

In 2003, he was among the defendants in a civil rights case filed by a Torrance County man alleging he was falsely arrested for violating a court order in a divorce case. He also was named in a third federal civil lawsuit in 1998 that was dismissed.

Son of a cop

People who know Keith Sandy say that to know him you have to know about his father – Ray Sandy.

Nearly 45 years ago, Ray K. Sandy was a 23-year-old Albuquerque police officer with three years on the force.

Shortly before 2 a.m. on Sept. 29, 1970, Ray Sandy was on patrol with rookie patrolman Samuel Herrera when they responded to a radio call of an attempted armed robbery at the Bird of Paradise Lounge and liquor store on Gibson SE.

APD officer Ray K. Sandy, Keith Sandy’s father, was shot and seriously wounded in September 1970 when trying to arrest would-be robbers. (Albuquerque Journal File Photo)

APD officer Ray K. Sandy, Keith Sandy’s father, was shot and seriously wounded in September 1970 when trying to arrest would-be robbers. (Albuquerque Journal File Photo)

The five robbers sped away from the lounge in a Pontiac as Sandy and Herrera arrived and pursued.

During the chase, the suspects’ car crashed into a curb on Amherst and Thaxton SE. Sandy, who was driving, stopped his police car to the right of the getaway vehicle. The two officers got out of the squad car and drew their revolvers.

Ray Sandy later testified he should have pulled up behind the suspects’ car instead of next to it. As he stepped to the left side of the Pontiac, he was shot in the face with a sawed-off shotgun. He was hit with two more blasts in quick succession in the legs and chest.

Sandy was blinded by the first shot – he would eventually lose the sight in one eye – but returned fire, emptying his revolver into the car. His final shots were fired from the ground where he fell. His bullets struck the car and at least one of the robbers suffered a minor injury from one of his bullets.

Herrera fired at the man with the shotgun who ran away, and wounded another man who jumped out of the car and lunged at him. Herrera had one bullet left in his revolver and kept it pointed at the three men remaining in the car until other officers arrived.

All five of the suspects went to prison on various charges.

Ray Sandy called Herrera a hero and credited him with saving his life and making the arrests. Herrera went on to become a highly regarded agent in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Ray Sandy never fully recovered from his wounds and was medically retired from APD in 1973.

“F….ing Lunatic”

Keith Sandy came under fire for comments he made as he prepared to join other officers in confronting Boyd.

He was called out late to the scene and had read comments on his computer about the situation and the efforts to talk Boyd into surrender. After arriving at the scene, Sandy was talking to a State Police officer when he called Boyd a “F….ing lunatic.”

There is debate over what else he said – whether he said he was going to shoot Boyd in the penis as some have reported or whether he said he was bringing a less lethal weapon with him – a Taser shotgun.

Keith Sandy (center looking at camera) at the Boyd shooting scene. (Courtesy of APD)

Keith Sandy (center looking at camera) at the Boyd shooting scene. (Courtesy of APD)

Sandy told investigators he was joking when he called Boyd a lunatic and that he didn’t recall saying anything like shooting him in the penis. The State Police officer he was talking to said Sandy was talking about the Taser shotgun.

Sandy was called to the foothills that day because he had a Taser shotgun. He arrived as other members of tactical units – SWAT and K-9 officers – came on the scene and he took up position with a K-9 officer and an acting sergeant from the Repeat Offender Project unit below where Boyd was camped.

His role was to provide “close-in” lethal support to the K-9 officer and he later told investigators he fired at Boyd because he believed the K-9 officer’s life was in danger.

Fired from NMSP

His father was shot five years before Keith Sandy was born, but there was little doubt that Keith would wind up in law enforcement.

He grew up in the Edgewood area but 20 years ago he was living in Las Cruces when he applied for the Las Cruces Police Department and the New Mexico State Police.

He became a state cop.

In the late 1990s he pulled over a suspected drunken driver in Albuquerque and found himself arresting a politically connected deputy sheriff from northern New Mexico, Eddie Rodella, brother-in-law of State Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, and brother of former State Police officer, magistrate judge and county Sheriff Tommy Rodella, who recently was sentenced to prison for violating the civil rights of a young man in Rio Arriba County.

The case file Sandy assembled against Eddie Rodella disappeared twice from Metropolitan Court. Sandy refiled the case both times, finally getting a conviction.

He later became a State Police Criminal Agent, the equivalent of a detective on a city police department.

In May 2007, his career at the State Police came to a crashing halt when he was one of three officers fired for being paid by Wackenhut Services Inc. to teach classes at a Department of Energy program at the same time State Police was paying their salaries to attend the classes. Another officer resigned during the investigation.

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said she didn’t pursue criminal fraud charges against the four officers because their supervisors may have been aware of the practice and there was no intention to commit a criminal act. She also said there was no evidence that the officers tried to hide what they were doing.

Two months later, Sandy was hired by APD during an attempt to ramp up the number of officers on APD to 1,100 under then Mayor Marty Chavez.

Sandy later rose to the rank of detective and was assigned to the vice unit, where he investigated fellow officers, state District Judge Albert “Pat” Murdoch and an Internet sex ring involving former UNM President F. Chris Garcia.

All of those cases garnered a lot of criticism and prosecutions fell apart.

But criticism of Sandy didn’t stick. His written reports in those investigations were considered and approved by superiors who considered them high quality. Former supervisor Thompson said Sandy had compassion for the low-level drug addicts and prostitutes, often helping them into rehabilitation programs instead of jail.

He developed a wide network of informants that led to his receiving a plum assignment in late 2012 to the Repeat Offender Project, a plainclothes unit established to arrest dangerous felons with a history of violence or serious felonies.

“When I came to APD, they asked me what I wanted,” Sandy told criminal investigators during an interview about the Boyd shooting. “I wanted to go to ROP.”

Under the city’s agreement with the Department of Justice, the ROP unit was disbanded last year. The unit has been controversial since it was formed in the late 1980s and at one time it used a hangman’s noose as a logo until it was removed after a Journal report.

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