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Editorial: New DA should let Perez, Sandy get lives, jobs back

Special prosecutor Randi McGinn has dropped the open count of murder that has made life a living hell for former Albuquerque Police Department SWAT officer Dominique Perez. And while McGinn filed the dismissal “without prejudice,” meaning it can be refiled, incoming District Attorney Raul Torrez should not pick that charge back up.

There is no question the case that brought Perez to trial – and to unemployment and to bankruptcy – made the community face difficult and painful truths about how residents and law enforcement treat the city’s mentally ill and homeless population. After an hours-long standoff in March 2014, Perez and now-retired detective Keith Sandy fatally shot James Boyd, a homeless, paranoid schizophrenic man who was camping illegally in the Sandia foothills.

But re-prosecuting these officers after a jury deadlocked 9-3 for acquittal would be its own miscarriage of justice, one likely to end in another financially and emotionally costly decision that does not deliver justice to anyone involved.

Perez had been on the scene all of three minutes, called to act as lethal cover for the plainclothes APD officers who had been trying to persuade Boyd to drop his knives and surrender. The officer had joined APD in 2006 after serving two tours in Iraq and receiving a Purple Heart. He was fired when he was charged with the felony.

Prosecutor McGinn actually took a moment to thank Perez for his military service when he took the stand and said, “I can’t tell you how sorry I am that you were the one sent up into the mess that other officers created.”

However, McGinn did blame Sandy, who shot first, for creating the situation that led officers to use deadly force against Boyd. She maintained Sandy inserted himself into the hours-long standoff; his attorney, Sam Bregman, has denied that and argues “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, (Torrez) will do the right thing and dismiss” charges against Sandy, as well.

It bears repeating that, after 15 days of trial and more than 17 hours of deliberations, a jury could not agree on whether Sandy and Perez were guilty of murder in Boyd’s shooting death. In fact, nine of the 12 jurors voted to acquit both of the former officers – a strong majority message for acquittal and against re-trial. And in the meantime, the city and APD embarked on a major overhaul of the department’s use-of-force policies – the real culprit – and paid $5 million to settle a civil suit with Boyd’s relatives, folks who apparently had washed their hands of a troubled man who for years had been in and out of jail, and kicked out of homeless shelters for violent behavior problems.

For his part, Torrez has said on several occasions, “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.”

Without question, those recommendations should include not re-filing charges against either officer, especially Perez, and getting him back on the force.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.