The first murder trial involving an on-duty shooting by an Albuquerque police officer in at least 50 years ended late Tuesday afternoon with a District Court jury deadlocked 9-3 for acquittal on charges against former officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez.
District Judge Alisa Hadfield declared a mistrial after she polled jurors individually to confirm they believed further deliberations would be futile in deciding whether the officers were guilty of second-degree murder. No vote was taken on a battery charge against Sandy.
Special prosecutor Randi McGinn said it will be up to incoming District Attorney Raúl Torrez to decide whether to retry the two in connection with the 2014 shooting death of mentally ill homeless camper James Boyd after a long standoff in the Sandia foothills.
Current DA Kari Brandenburg was disqualified from the case at the request of the defense.
Torrez, who has no general election opponent and would take office Jan. 1, pointed out that he is not yet in office and added that he has not had an opportunity to conduct a detailed review of the evidence or have an in-depth conversation with McGinn about the conduct of the trial.
“This is an extremely important case for our community and we must not rush a decision about how to proceed,” he said.
Sam Bregman, representing Sandy, said he believed the jury sent “a pretty positive message … that this case is pretty weak.”
Bregman said it was “a misguided prosecution” and he hopes the DA’s Office will look at the “weak jury support” and “let these two good men get on with their lives.”
McGinn, a high-profile trial lawyer who essentially handled the prosecution for free, said after the mistrial that her job was to present the facts and that she was always OK with whatever the jury decided.
“We’ve proven every fact we could find. This city now has the true story of what happened on that mountain,” McGinn said. She added that she hoped the city could now “come together” to have a dialogue about what kind of policing is acceptable.
Robles, who represents Perez, wasn’t available for comment after the verdict was announced.
The climax to the rare criminal prosecution came just before 5 p.m.
Sandy and Perez, who showed no emotion at the mistrial ruling, left out the back door of the courtroom, away from the media attention. Perez’s attorney, Luis Robles, let out a big sigh, and Bregman put his arm on his client, then tapped his own heart.
Sandy retired months after the shooting, but Perez was terminated when the criminal charge was filed, per city policy.
A decorated Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War, Perez is now unemployed. He is appealing his termination.
Sandy and Perez paid for their own defense, and both are said to be bankrupt.
Jury foreman Ray Davilla was one of the three jurors who held out for a guilty verdict during the more than 17 hours of deliberation since the jury got the case late Thursday.
“Some felt like some of the evidence leading up to the final action that was taken against him crossed the line,” Davilla said outside the state district courthouse in Downtown Albuquerque. “Others felt that like from the outset of his threats on the police officers, it made the officers’ decision pretty much overwhelming.”
The Boyd shooting was among the more than 30 fatal on-duty shootings by Albuquerque police since 2010, but was the only one to date caught so graphically on camera. The video ignited a series of protests in Albuquerque and attracted national attention.
The video, taken from a camera affixed to Perez’s SWAT helmet, was cited by both the defense and prosecution as evidence of their case.
“It’s just really a difficult task the jury took on to view the video over and over and over,” Davilla said. “We just came to an impasse.”
Boyd, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, had been camping illegally in the Sandia foothills for a month before two APD Open Space officers confronted him that Sunday afternoon. The confrontation escalated until more than a dozen police officers had responded on the hillside. Ultimately, a hastily assembled team of off-duty officers, including Sandy, led the final hour of negotiations. Boyd at one point appeared ready to come down the hill, at the officers’ urging, and started to pick up his belongings.
But Sandy and Perez said he still posed a threat because he failed to drop his knives, as requested by police. Three attempts to subdue him with less lethal tactics, including a flash-bang grenade, a Taser shotgun and the release of a police service dog all failed.
Unexpectedly, the dog’s handler ran after the dog, which failed to bite Boyd. Boyd pulled out his knives again, and that created the volatile situation in which, Sandy and Perez testified, they felt compelled to shoot Boyd.
“Some felt like some of the procedures of the police department aren’t created in a fair fashion and Mr. Boyd with the mental illness he had, some of the gestures that were made, some in the jury felt he could have been given more consideration,” Davilla said.
Special prosecutors McGinn and Elicia Montoya argued that Boyd posed no immediate threat to any of the officers, and was turning around to obey police commands to get on the ground when he was shot.
“I did feel like the officers were guilty,” Davilla said. “For those that viewed the tape unedited and the turn that he made away from the officers and what some of us felt like was a surrendering fashion.”
He said officers put Boyd in a “precarious position when none of their (non)lethal options worked appropriately. Many felt like they could have withdrawn and created that distance (where Boyd posed no immediate threat).”
The seven-man, five-woman jury got the case late Thursday after 12 days of trial.
Defense lawyers argued the shooting was justifiable homicide because they were protecting the life of an APD K9 officer who moved within nine to 10 feet of the knife-wielding Boyd during the standoff, according to trial testimony.
The prosecution argued that there was no imminent threat posed by Boyd because he had turned and was surrendering when he was fatally shot by Sandy, a detective with the now-disbanded APD repeat offender project, and seconds later by Perez, a SWAT officer called to the scene to provide “lethal cover.”
Boyd, 38, died the next morning.