ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dominique Perez is a nine-year veteran of the Albuquerque Police Department with a clean record. Before joining the ranks of APD, the Albuquerque native served in Iraq as a United States Marine and was wounded in battle.
He’s also broke and on the verge of losing his job as a police officer since he faces trial on a second-degree murder charge, his attorney said Thursday.
City policies call for Perez to be fired once he is charged officially, which will happen because a judge on Tuesday found probable cause at a preliminary hearing to bind Perez and former detective Keith Sandy over for trial on second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of mentally ill, homeless camper James Boyd.
Celina Espinoza, a police spokeswoman, said Perez was on administrative leave Thursday and will have a “due process” hearing, which hasn’t been scheduled, before he can be terminated.
The hearing, though, is moot, attorney Luis Robles said.
“You can always grieve these things, but there isn’t much to do,” Robles said Thursday. “Given that the judge bound the charges against him over (for trial), he loses his job.”
Unlike a lawsuit against police officers, the city isn’t paying for Perez and Sandy’s defense, Robles said. Defending a case of this magnitude would cost about $250,000, he said.
Robles said he plans to represent Perez until the end of the case and doesn’t expect to receive significant legal fees for litigating motions and defending Perez at trial.
“All the things that you see happening (so far in the case) are coming out of the pockets of officer Perez and former Detective Sandy,” Robles said. Perez “has a family and three young children. He doesn’t have anything left to give.”
Perez, who attended the University of New Mexico before enlisting, was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Anbar province during his second tour in Iraq. The sergeant who pulled Perez and another Marine from the burning vehicle was awarded the Silver Star.
The blast and fire left permanent scars.
As a nine-year APD officer and SWAT team member, Perez had never fired his weapon in the line of duty.
His fellow officers have rallied to the defense of Perez and Sandy.
Earlier this year, the police department’s collective bargaining unit voted to increase union dues by about $19 a month to purchase an insurance package that provides officers with criminal defense funds, said Shaun Willoughby, the vice president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.
But Perez and Sandy were already facing murder charges by the time police officers voted on that package, he said.
In addition to losing his job, Robles said Perez won’t work in law enforcement again.
“His career choice of working in law enforcement is over,” he said. “Even with an acquittal, his life is ruined.”
The next step in the case is for prosecutors to file formal charges against Perez and Sandy. The officers will then be arraigned and booked into jail before a judge sets conditions of release.
Attorneys expect there to be several motions litigated before the case goes to trial. A trial date hasn’t been set.
Robles said one of the defense’s next tasks is to file a motion for a change of venue. If that motion is successful, it would mean the trial would be held outside of Albuquerque.
Perez and Sandy are the first Albuquerque police officers to be charged criminally for an on-duty death since 1977, when Albuquerque police officer James Babich was charged and later acquitted of a manslaughter charge for striking a man with a large flashlight and killing him.
Throughout a seven-day preliminary hearing that wrapped up Tuesday, testimony showed officers in March 2014 surrounded Boyd in the Sandia foothills where he was camping illegally and allegedly pulled a knife on two uniformed officers who responded.
After a three-hour standoff, a group of tactical officers hatched a plan to lure Boyd down a steep slope with his belongings where they would use several less-lethal weapons and take him into custody. The less-lethal weapons were ineffective, however, and Sandy and Perez shot and killed Boyd when a fellow officer got too close to Boyd, who was armed with two knives.
The K-9 officer testified his life was in danger and that he ducked so the cover officers could fire. That’s what they did.
Perez had arrived at the scene about 15 minutes prior to the shooting. Both he and Sandy fired simultaneously from different positions.
Prosecutors argued that Boyd was surrendering and that police used excessive force and were unreasonable, and pro tem Judge Neil Candelaria found there was probable cause to bind both over for trial.
Impact on APD
Robles said what is happening to Perez will likely make it harder for Albuquerque police to find new recruits. The department is already understaffed and working under a consent decree after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Albuquerque police found a pattern of excessive force.
Albuquerque police’s administration couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
“Why would anybody want to be a cop, especially at APD, knowing, ‘This is what could happen to me,’ ” Robles said. “The (Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office) isn’t under the same scrutiny. Wouldn’t it be easier to wear tan and green?”
Willoughby said the police union will try to raise money for Perez and Sandy. Perez also has an online fundraiser where he has raised about $12,000.
“The only thing criminal about his case is what these officers had to go through,” Willoughby said. “We will do everything we can to stand behind these officers.”
Sandy retired while prosecutors were reviewing the case to determine if they would bring charges against the officers. His monthly pension is $3,141, according to the New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association.