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Prosecutor drops murder charge against Perez

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For nearly two years, an open count of murder was hanging over Dominique Perez, described as a model Albuquerque police officer whose life changed abruptly when he was dispatched to a police standoff in March 2014 and ended up firing at a mentally ill man brandishing knives.

Dominique Perez

Dominique Perez

With the filing of a single piece of paper dismissing that second-degree murder charge, Perez “got his life back” Monday, said his attorney,

Luis Robles. “Unless the new DA chooses to refile, the case is over against Dominique Perez,” Robles told the Journal.

Special prosecutor Randi McGinn filed the dismissal “without prejudice,” which gives incoming District Attorney Raul Torrez the option of refiling the charge after he takes office Jan. 1.

“It was the right thing to do,” McGinn said Monday.

A decorated Iraq War veteran who received a Purple Heart before joining the Albuquerque Police Department in 2006, SWAT team member Perez was fired pursuant to APD policy after he was formally charged with a felony. If convicted, he would have faced up to 15 years in prison.

“If nothing else … it allows him the ability to go on with his life, including the ability to ask for his job back,” Robles said.

Sandy charge remains

The criminal case against Perez’s co-defendant, former APD detective Keith Sandy, who retired in late 2014, is still pending.

McGinn didn’t comment on why only Perez’s charge was dismissed, but Sandy’s lawyer, Sam Bregman, cried foul, saying both officers fired the fatal shots at homeless camper James Boyd and shouldn’t be treated differently.

“There is no logical way in which you could prosecute one police officer who fired first and not the police officer who fired afterwards. Hopefully, he (Torrez) will do the right thing and dismiss,” Bregman said.

The defense, during a 15-day trial that ended with a hung jury Oct. 11, argued that the officers were following their training and were justified in using deadly force because they believed Boyd posed an imminent danger to another officer who moved too close to Boyd during the March 16, 2014, standoff.

District Judge Alisa Hadfield declared a mistrial after jurors deadlocked 9-3 in favor of acquittal of both Perez and Sandy. Since then, McGinn offered to drop the charges against Perez if Sandy would agree to plead guilty to a lesser conspiracy charge. Sandy refused.

On Monday, Torrez released a statement saying: “As I have previously stated, all decisions on this case moving forward will be guided by the facts and by the law. This does not change my plans to appoint experienced independent prosecutors to review the case when I take office and make recommendations for any future actions.”

A key piece of evidence in the case was a videotape from Perez’s APD helmet camera that captured the fatal shooting. Boyd was hit three times, in the arms and the back, and died the following day. The videotape made it appear that Boyd was surrendering at the time he was shot.

Perez couldn’t be reached for comment Monday, but his attorney Robles said his client was “so thankful and so happy and relieved.”

Robles said Perez’s appeal of his firing was held in abeyance until the criminal charges were resolved.

Different roles

Throughout the 13 days of trial testimony, McGinn blamed Sandy for creating the situation that led APD officers to use deadly force against Boyd, a mentally ill man who had been camping illegally in the Sandia foothills.

McGinn had far less criticism of Perez, who was called to the scene and ordered to provide lethal cover for a group of negotiating plainclothes APD officers who had been trying to persuade Boyd to drop his knives and surrender. Perez arrived in the last three minutes of the confrontation.

But Sandy inserted himself into the hours-long standoff, McGinn argued. Bregman denied that assertion.

Sandy arrived to furnish a less-lethal Taser shotgun, but he ended up assembling a trio of tactical officers who took over negotiations with Boyd, and Sandy then assumed the “lethal cover” responsibility for protecting the officers.

Sandy fired the first shots at Boyd, when a K-9 officer chasing his police service dog moved within 9 feet of Boyd. Boyd, seconds earlier, pulled two pocketknives from his pockets upon seeing the dog headed toward him.

Perez followed up with three more shots just moments after Sandy fired.

At one point, before cross-examining Perez on the witness stand during the trial, McGinn thanked Perez for his military service.

“I can’t tell you how sorry I am that you were the one sent up into the mess that other officers created,” she said.

An Albuquerque native and Del Norte High School graduate, Perez joined the Marines in 2000 and served two tours in Iraq. He was injured in 2003 when a caravan he was leading hit an improvised explosive device.