ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Testimony ended Wednesday in the criminal trial of two former Albuquerque police officers charged in the fatal shooting of homeless camper James Boyd without jurors ever hearing from the Albuquerque Police Department K-9 handler whose questionable, last-minute actions in the March 2014 police standoff helped trigger the defendants’ use of force.
Both former officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, who are charged with second-degree murder in Boyd’s death, testified this week that they fired at the mentally ill Boyd because K-9 officer Scott Weimerskirch moved close enough during the confrontation for Boyd to stab him with two pocketknives he was brandishing.
But neither side chose to call Weimerskirch, now retired, as a witness over the 12 days of trial in state District Court in Albuquerque. Final arguments are set to begin today at 10 a.m. with jury deliberations to follow.
After resting their case Wednesday, defense attorneys asked Judge Alisa Hadfield for a directed verdict of acquittal, contending the special prosecution team failed to present sufficient evidence to prove Sandy and Perez did not commit justifiable homicide by a peace officer. Hadfield denied the motions.
For most of Wednesday, Sandy was on the witness stand. He recounted the final minutes leading up to the shooting, saying Boyd became agitated and drew his knives after officers used three less-lethal tactics to try to subdue him.
Sandy was questioned as to why Boyd wasn’t permitted to come down the hillside after keeping officers at bay for hours. Sandy, echoing Perez, said that as long as Boyd hadn’t dropped his knives he still posed a threat.
“We can’t allow him to leave that point armed with a knife,” Sandy testified. “He’s made a decision, and he’s pushing the issue.”
Transcripts from Weimerskirch’s Taser camera shown to the jury on Sandy’s cross-examination by special prosecutor Randi McGinn showed the dog handler asked Boyd five times to come down the hillside, without ever demanding he disarm.
Sandy testified that at other times in the back-and-forth with Boyd, police had made such demands.
The prosecution has been especially critical of Sandy’s conduct, accusing him of inserting himself into the standoff that began hours earlier when two APD Open Space officers confronted Boyd at his makeshift illegal campsite in the Sandia foothills east of Copper Road and Tramway Boulevard.
In his five hours on the witness stand Wednesday, Sandy testified that he had been the primary on-call detective working in the APD undercover unit that targeted violent career criminals when he responded to a dispatcher call for a Taser shotgun to be brought to the scene. He testified that he believed that when the Taser shotgun was requested, the sergeant at the scene also wanted the officer who delivered the weapon “to go up there and effect an arrest.”
Once he arrived, Sandy testified, he “stepped into the role” of gathering intelligence on Boyd by using his rifle scope as binoculars to track Boyd’s movements as he ranted and threatened police officers for more than an hour.
Sandy then described how he, Sgt. Rick Ingram, and Weimerskirch, acting as a negotiator, moved toward Boyd and came within 25 feet of him.
Sandy said he became alarmed when Boyd picked up his bags and his Styrofoam cup, preparing to go down the hill.
That’s when, Sandy testified, that he threw a flash-bang device designed to disorient Boyd, but the device hit at Boyd’s feet and bounced away. Ingram fired a Taser shotgun, which had no effect, and the police dog was released but refused to bite.
Sandy confirmed that there was earlier discussion among the officers that the Taser shotgun might not be effective and that Weimerskirch warned that the usually effective police dog might not bite Boyd once a Taser was used.
The tactics seemed to aggravate Boyd, who pulled the knives from his pockets. “It was a defensive posture,” Sandy said of Boyd. “It’s how you describe someone when they assume a fighting stance.”
At that time, Sandy testified, he noticed Weimerskirch follow the dog and move closer to Boyd.
“My duty was to provide cover and protection for Weimerskirch and Ingram if Mr. Boyd posed a deadly force threat,” Sandy said.
Weimerskirch then kneeled down to grab the dog, coming within 10 to 12 feet of Boyd, Sandy testified.
Sandy testified he moved in and “stopped and leaned over the top of him (Weimerskirch)” to take the initial shots at Boyd.
Sandy testified that he saw Boyd take a “quarter of a turn” to the left, and that’s when Sandy fired.
The prosecution contends Boyd was turning around to obey police demands to lie on the ground.
But Sandy, a 19-year law enforcement veteran, testified he interpreted that move as a “flanking maneuver that he was going to attack us from a different angle.”