Albuquerque, NM -- Two Albuquerque cops charged with the second-degree murder of a homeless man suffering schizophrenia — whose only crime had been illegally camping — have now been let off the hook for the killing after a hung jury left a judge no choice but to declare a mistrial.
Retired Officer Keith Sandy and Officer Dominique Perez had been charged for the murder of 38-year-old James Boyd in August last year — after Albuquerque police cleared them of wrongdoing — in a rare case where cops were forced to face legal responsibility for a highly questionable and brutal killing.
A mistrial was declared by Judge Alisa Hadfield on Tuesday when only three of twelve jurors voted to convict the two officers — which, though deplorably typical, seems inexplicable given officer helmet-camera footage and several nasty details in the case.
Prior to the fatal shooting, a conversation involving Officer Sandy was captured on tape, revealing not only a lack of compassion or understanding for those with mental health issues, but utter disregard for human life:
Sandy: What do they have you guys doing here?
Ware: I don’t know. The guy asked for state police.
Sandy: Who asked?
Ware: I don’t know.
Sandy: For this fucking lunatic? I’m going to shoot him in the penis with a shotgun here in a second.
Police had been summoned to the rocky hillside location of Boyd’s illegal campsite in March 2014, after receiving calls of someone acting erratically. As footage from an officer’s camera-bedecked helmet subsequently revealed, a small army of 19 cops — some sporting a ridiculous amount of tactical gear — and a K-9 officer responded to the scene.
Boyd begins gathering his belongings and seems to be complying with police demands to leave, when one officer abruptly fires a flash-bang grenade — completely disorienting the man who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, an illness characterized most often by visual and auditory hallucinations.
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Video shows Boyd appearing to pull out two knives as an officer with the K-9 approaches, but ineffectually waves them in the air, not making any significant threatening moves toward any of the cops.
When Boyd turns to retrieve his bags from the hillside, officers shoot him in the back — killing him, in what many who have seen the footage termed an execution.
Even if the homeless man’s movements prior to being shot could be deemed threatening, at the moment officers fired the fatal rounds, his back was clearly visible.
“What was the crime that prompted this paramilitary response?” Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn said during the original probable cause hearing, adding that shooting someone in the back isn’t something “reasonable people” do. “It was not a terrorist act. It was illegal camping.”
McGinn toldABC News she was not surprised by the deadlocked jury in this case, but hoped the trial would broaden the discussion and ‘leave a lasting legacy.’
“I think the discussion we have to have as a community is do we want Dirty Harry or do we want a peace officer,” she said. “I think we are beyond the Dirty Harry days.”
As ABC Newsreported, “The shooting encapsulated the Albuquerque department's troubles in the past several years. The U.S. Justice Department investigated more than 20 deadly police shootings between 2010 and 2014, leading to court-ordered reforms that included a new use-of-force policy and SWAT and crisis intervention training. The department also was found to have poor policies and training for officers encountering suspects who are mentally ill.”
James Boyd’s brother, Andrew Jones, said in a statement released by his attorney that — despite the hung jury — the trial gave other campers in similar situations a voice that would not have been possible otherwise.
“He mattered. His life mattered,” Jones asserted. “And we very much appreciate that the officers had to publicly answer for killing him.”
This mistrial, and the fact Sandy and Perez were able to walk quietly from the courtroom without comment or conviction, is telling of police impunity — the ability for cops to kill with wild abandon and almost never be held accountable.