ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The special prosecutor in the case against two Albuquerque police officers said police can’t claim they shot James Boyd in self-defense because the officers created the danger that led to the shooting.
But attorneys for the two officers said a police K-9 officer was in striking distance of an armed Boyd when they opened fire, making it a justified homicide.
Nearly a year and a half after Boyd, 38, was shot and killed in the Sandia foothills in March 2014, prosecutors began to lay out their evidence against former Detective Keith Sandy and officer Dominique Perez in court. The officers are facing second-degree murder and lesser offenses.
A preliminary hearing is taking place this week in front of Pro Tem Judge Neil Candelaria, who will decide whether prosecutors have established probable cause to take the case to trial.
Randi McGinn, a special prosecutor appointed for the case, in her opening statement said 19 police officers approached Boyd in waves, wearing bulletproof vests and armed with nine rifles, more than 700 rounds of ammunition and numerous less lethal devices, like Tasers, police K-9s and bean-bag shotguns.
She questioned why such a response was needed for a man who was camping illegally.
“It is the kind of thing that most of the time you don’t get a ticket for,” she said.
Perez and Sandy’s attorneys said the case isn’t about camping. The officers were trying to arrest Boyd on suspicion of felony assault on a police officer, which happened moments into Boyd’s encounter with police that day.
Police Chief Gorden Eden testified for more than two hours. He said the actions of the officers can vary depending on the circumstances, but that “the law should always prevail.” Candelaria didn’t allow him to answer specific questions about the police report on the Boyd shooting after Eden said he hadn’t read it.
Perez’s helmet video of Boyd being fatally shot, which sparked protests when it appeared on local and national news, was played several times in regular and slow motion by both sides of the case Monday. But much attention in the first day of proceedings was given to the initial seconds of Boyd’s hours-long standoff with police.
As officers John McDaniel and Patrick Hernandez approached Boyd on a report that he had been camping illegally just 300 yards west of a national forest boundary, where camping was legal, McDaniel said he asked Boyd to step out from under a tarp.
As Boyd was getting out of the campsite, McDaniel could only see one of his hands, so the officers drew their firearms. When McDaniel went to pat down Boyd for weapons seconds later, Boyd said, “Please, don’t touch me,” spun around and pulled two pocket knives from his pants and held them at his side, changing how police would handle the situation.
“He looked angry,” McDaniel said on the witness stand.
McGinn said Boyd was distraught because the officers drew firearms on him and that him holding out knives was a show of force by a mentally ill man who was scared of the police. She showed that, throughout the standoff, Boyd frequently made reference to police drawing their weapons first and referred to it as an assault.
Luis Robles, Perez’s attorney, said during questioning that McDaniel had a duty to check and make sure Boyd wasn’t armed as he and another officer approached.
“How simple it could have been if he put down the knives and was taken into custody,” Robles said.
By pulling those knives, Sam Bregman, Sandy’s attorney, said Boyd changed the situation from an illegal camping case to a felony assault on a police officer investigation. For the next two hours, several uniformed police officers and a state police sergeant surrounded Boyd and tried to negotiate a surrender.
One of those officers, Brock Knipprath, said two other crisis intervention officers had a history of working with Boyd, but they weren’t called to the scene.
Boyd “complained about police pointing guns at him,” he said.
After the officers had little success with Boyd, they called for an officer to respond with a Taser shotgun. Sandy took the call.
“And everything changed,” McGinn said.
Prosecutors played a recording of Sandy arriving on scene and talking to state police Sgt. Chris Ware. The recording was made by Ware’s belt recorder.
Sandy called Boyd a “(expletive) lunatic” and said he was going to shoot him with a Taser shotgun. She said Sandy and other officers assembled themselves into a tactical squad and made plans to arrest Boyd before nightfall.
Perez and Sandy were pointing rifles at Boyd when a group of officers moved to make the arrest. The recording of the shooting shows Boyd gather some of his possessions and start to walk down the slope.
Then Sandy threw a stun grenade, another officer fired a Taser from the less lethal shotgun at Boyd and K-9 officer Scott Weimerskirch unleashed a police dog. The dog was hit by the Taser, making the dog ineffective.
Boyd then pulled two knives as Weimerskirch was moving toward the dog, and Sandy shot Boyd. After Sandy fired three shots, Perez fired, shooting Boyd in the back and causing his death.
McGinn asked Chief Eden why no other officer on the arrest team other than Perez made a recording of the shooting, hinting at a possibility officers had destroyed additional footage. Eden said the internal affairs investigation into the case is still ongoing.
“If there was proof an officer erased a tape, it would be concerning to me,” Eden said.