ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The March 16 fatal shooting by two Albuquerque Police officers of a mentally ill homeless camper in the city’s foothills is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation, according to several people briefed by U.S. Justice Department officials Wednesday afternoon.
Albuquerque community groups had asked for a meeting with Department of Justice officials as part of the DOJ’s ongoing probe of Albuquerque’s troubled police department. After the meeting, many of the participants spoke about what happened.
The biggest announcement to come from Wednesday’s meeting was that the shooting of James Boyd in the foothills has been added to the list of cases being reviewed by the DOJ’s criminal division.
“What I hung on, out of all of this, was John Smith from the Department of Justice Civil Division said that they can make recommendations to the criminal division and they have made recommendations to the criminal division on James Boyd’s shooting,” said Jonell Ellis, who’s brother, Kenneth Ellis III, was shot and killed by an APD officer in 2010 following a traffic stop where Ellis III held a gun to his own head.
In the Foothills shooting, two APD officers, Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, fired three shots apiece at Boyd from their assault-style rifles as Boyd was turning away from them. The shooting happened three and a half hours into APD’s encounter with Boyd, who had a three- or four-inch knife in each hand when he was shot.
“The hardest part about meeting with the department of justice is that they don’t give us a whole lot of information as we’re going through this, this is probably the only helpful information I’ve felt that we’ve gotten… that there’s any progress made in what they’ve been doing here,” said Ellis.
Jewel Hall, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, said she left Wednesday’s meeting with the impression that the sweeping federal investigation would be finished soon.
“I would say probably in the next couple of months, I think that they’re waiting for some of the other trials to finish and some of the other cases where families have filed complaints,” said Hall.
Hall was referring to the DOJ’s civil investigation, which is aimed at discovering whether APD has a systemic pattern of violating citizens’ civil rights. That investigation also is looking into APD’s culture and the department’s ability to effectively police itself.
The civil investigation is likely to result in court-enforceable reforms for APD.
Concurrently, federal investigators are looking into several individual incidents — including officer-involved shootings — for possible criminal prosecutions.
“I can tell you that they’re looking at the entire system, the police, the police oversight, civilian oversight process, and that there will be probably some prosecutions that come out of this,” said Andrew Lipman, Vice President of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center and one of the people inside Wednesday’s meeting.
Activists say they also presented federal investigators a list of 14 changes they want to see happen in the city and at APD. Acitivists say they’ll demand thsoe changes at Albuquerque City Council in early April, as well.
Activists say they’re not bothered by the length of the investigation, which has now taken more than a year.
“It’s a good thing that it’s taking a lot of time because it means that they’re being very through in their investigation and that’s important,” said Lipman, Vice President of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center.
APD officers have shot at 36 men since 2010, killing 23 of them. Meeting attendees say they’re hopeful for sweeping change.
“John Smith did mention with confidence that we were going to be impressed with our recommendations and that we weren’t going to be disappointed in the work that they’ve done,” said Ellis.