ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque police officer Mikal Monette was a “go to” crisis intervention negotiator who had peacefully diffused “hundreds” of police encounters with mentally disturbed people or those in crisis.
The exception was the standoff with paranoid schizophrenic James Boyd, who was fatally shot more than an hour after Monette was pulled out of negotiations with the mentally ill man.
Called by the prosecution, Monette testified Tuesday in the murder trial of two former APD officers charged in Boyd’s death that he believed he had made “some progress” with the 38-year-old homeless man before a trio of other officers decided to move up the hillside and confront Boyd themselves.
One of the three, Keith Sandy, along with former SWAT officer Dominique Perez, who arrived later to the scene, face charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in Boyd’s death.
The jury trial resumes today with more testimony expected from the SWAT sergeant who arrived at the scene shortly before Boyd was killed.
On Tuesday, now-retired APD SWAT Sgt. James Fox testified that he asked if the SWAT team’s help was needed in resolving the standoff but was told by an APD sergeant at the scene that the situation was under control. Ultimately, some SWAT officers listening to radio calls about the standoff showed up on their own.
Sandy and Perez are accused of firing at the knife-wielding Boyd when there was no immediate threat. They contend they shot the homeless camper, who had made threats to kill police, to protect the life of a K-9 officer who got too close to Boyd’s position on the hillside.
Monette testified that he was one of the first officers on the scene after two Open Space officers called for backup after Boyd pulled knives on them when they confronted him about his illegal campsite in the Sandia foothills.
Over his four years as a crisis intervention trained APD officer, Monette testified that he had spent as little as 20 minutes and as long as 2½ hours persuading other mentally ill people to give up.
He testified that he has responded to “hundreds” of such calls, all which ended peacefully.
Monette spent about an hour and 10 minutes talking with Boyd, at times getting him to put his knives away and keep his hands out of his pockets. But Boyd never did drop the knives and surrender.
Monette’s sergeant finally told him to stop his negotiation and go down the hillside to patrol the perimeter and keep the public from entering the scene in the city open space at the end of Copper Road east of Tramway Boulevard.
Monette testified he wasn’t told why, nor was he debriefed by Sandy and another detective from the specialized repeat offender team, who joined a K-9 officer in taking over the volatile situation.
Monette said he was “a little confused” when sometime after he was called back from talking to Boyd he heard a police radio call for a Crisis Intervention Team officer.
“It was kind of like, ‘I’m here,’ ” he told jurors.
As a CIT officer, he testified he received 40 hours of specialized training on how to de-escalate situations with people in crisis or those who are mentally disturbed.
Monette said in his experience Boyd’s behavior wasn’t “anything I hadn’t seen before.”
Excerpts of a police video were played for the jury to show Monette’s negotiations with Boyd. An aggressive Boyd threatened to kill officers after Monette first arrived.
About 20 minutes later, the situation “had started to de-escalate,” Monette testified. A less aggressive Boyd had put his knives away, and Monette testified he had to keep reminding him to keep his hands out of his pockets – to ensure police safety at the scene.
At one point, looking out at the gathering of patrol officers at the scene, Boyd asked, “Anybody need water down there?”
“I’m good,” Monette responded.
He testified his crisis intervention success led him to be the “go-to” CIT officer “in my shift and my area.” He worked in the foothills patrol.
Monette said there have been times where he had been relieved in crisis negotiations by an APD tactical unit, but never by the repeat offender team, which usually targets career criminals for apprehension.
‘Technically’ in charge
Now-retired APD Sgt. Fox testified that he was off-duty that Sunday but had a call from radio dispatch about “an incident in the foothills” involving a mentally ill man threatening to kill officers. So Fox said he phoned the field services sergeant at the scene to ask if SWAT should respond.
“He said, very confidently, ‘No, we’re good,’ ” noting that two K-9 officers were going to assist.
Fox testified that he hung up the phone, but had doubts about what he was told.
“It concerned me because I knew about the terrain, and it was getting close to nightfall.” The SWAT team has its own crisis negotiation team and psychologist who are trained to resolve “critical incidents with the least amount of force,” Fox testified.
Fox said he later got a phone call from one of the K-9 officers involved in the standoff and learned one SWAT team member was already at the scene and more team members were enroute. So Fox said as a supervisor, he opted go be with his team. In addition, he said the incident fit all the criteria for a SWAT call-out.
Fox testified he arrived on scene and was technically in charge, but he said he wasn’t informed of the plan created by Sandy and the other two officers to move closer to Boyd for a takedown that ultimately led to the fatal shooting.