ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Both community activists who have pushed for reform of the Albuquerque Police Department and the union representing the department proclaimed Tuesday’s mistrial of two former officers on trial for murder a victory – albeit a smaller one than each group had hoped for.
Mayor Richard Berry wants the city to move forward.
“This tragic incident has deeply affected our community,” he said, in a statement Tuesday evening. “As difficult as it has been for everyone, we have all learned from it. The most important thing moving forward is that we get closure, both for the officers, the families involved and our community.”
Police union spokesman Shaun Willoughby called the hung jury, which polled with nine in favor of acquittal and three in favor of conviction, a “vindication of what we’ve said from the beginning: That there was no criminal act” in the 2014 shooting death of illegal camper James Boyd by then-APD officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez.
The Boyd shooting occurred about a month before the U.S. Department of Justice released findings that APD had a pattern or practice of using excessive and fatal force in APD shootings. That led to police putting in place a number of court-enforceable reforms.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Kari Brandenburg filed charges against Sandy and Perez, the first criminal prosecution of Albuquerque police officers in 50 years for an on-duty shooting of a citizen.
Sandy eventually retired. And Perez is appealing his firing, which occurred under a city policy that requires termination upon being charged with a felony.
“This historic trial marks the first time in memory that APD officers have been held criminally accountable after killing a citizen in the line of duty. The Boyd trial has sent an important message to APD and the community it serves: No one is above the law,” Adriann Barboa, spokeswoman for community group APD Forward, said in a statement.
Her group hoped the trial would end in a conviction in Boyd’s “clearly unjustified” death and increase pressure on the department to reform its training policies and culture to create “proper use-of-force policies and systems of accountability.”
The mistrial for each group means a mixed message.
“Even if officers weren’t convicted of criminal charges, their actions escalated a situation that could have ended peacefully. It bears remembering that Mr. Boyd’s only crime was illegal camping in an open space, and for that he died,” Barboa said in her statement. “In the memory of James Boyd, we must continue the hard work to ensure Albuquerque has a well-trained police force with a healthy respect for the lives of those they serve.”
Willoughby said he and his officers were hoping for a full acquittal.
“This was a justified police shooting, and we hope that the state doesn’t waste the resources and the money to retry this case,” he said. “We respect the jury’s opinion, and we would have loved to have seen an acquittal.”
APD released the following statement from Assistant Chief of Police Robert Huntsman: “APD leadership and the administration support and appreciate the difficult work and challenges our officers face each and every day. We strive to serve the community with honor, courage and commitment always. Closure is important for our department and our community to move forward and we hope it comes soon.”
Meanwhile, about a dozen protesters gathered outside the courthouse shortly after the judge declared the mistrial. Surrounded by news cameras and reporters, the group took turns speaking into a megaphone, expressing disappointment that Sandy and Perez weren’t convicted, followed by a bit of chanting.
Journal staff writer Katy Barnitz contributed to this report.