As 2nd Judicial District Court nears jury selection in the very high-profile second-degree murder case against two former police officers, the presiding judge has filed orders easing up a bit on media constraints and making a final pretrial ruling on evidence.
There are many more rulings on evidentiary matters to come during the two-week trial, but 2nd Judicial District Judge Alisa Hadfield wrapped up 16 pretrial requests from prosecutors and two sets of defense attorneys for ex-officers-turned-defendants Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez with her Friday order. The officers were bound over for trial by another judge on the charges after a preliminary hearing stemming from a confrontation with a homeless, mentally ill man, James Boyd, who had been living under a tarp in the Sandia foothills in March 2014.
Hadfield said prosecutors may not present evidence of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation of APD for excessive force or its findings against the city, but may develop facts “that describe the events that unfolded on the date of the litigated event,” i.e. the fatal shooting.
The number of officers, what they carried and what they wore are facts that are appropriate for a jury to hear, the judge said. Sandy had asked for information about the number of firearms and strength of law enforcement to be excluded, arguing that it is irrelevant to the actions of an individual officer acting in the line of duty. Prosecutors said it is pertinent to the officers’ claim that Boyd posed a threat of imminent harm to them.
Hadfield also said the prosecution may refer to Boyd by his name, not as “victim” or – as the officers wished – “suspect.” But Sandy also wanted to keep the prosecution from referring to him as a “homeless camper.”
Hadfield said she wasn’t aware of any rule preventing Boyd from being described as homeless or a camper if the facts support that – unless it seems that the prosecution is inappropriately trying to invoke sympathy or emotion from the jury. In that case, the issue will be revisited.
Sandy also sought to foreclose any evidence about items found in Boyd’s possession, such as a Bible, and the inference that he was living peacefully in the foothills.
Hadfield said that will depend on the specific items of personal property that prosecutors intend to use in an opening statement and will be determined at a later hearing.
The court ruled that the detective who investigated the shooting, and did not file any criminal charges against the officers, may not express opinions because he is not listed as an expert and only experts may offer opinions.
She ruled that disciplinary actions taken against Sandy in previous employment will be admissible only if he or his attorney portray him as “a high quality officer who protected public safety.”
Finally, Hadfield offered some modification of her decorum order to allow media to use tools of the trade as long as they are not disruptive and set aside one row of the courtroom for credentialed media. In a new order governing media coverage, she said credentialed media may use electronic devices for note-taking, for instance. But she reiterated prohibitions on filming prospective jurors or those ultimately selected for the jury.