ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – District Attorney Kari Brandenburg plans to file murder charges on Monday against the two Albuquerque police officers who shot James Boyd in the Sandia Foothills last March, according to multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of her decision.
It will mark the first time an APD officer has faced criminal charges for shooting someone in the line of duty in New Mexico’s largest city. APD has one of the highest rates of police shootings in the country, and Boyd’s death was the result of the most controversial in a series of 27 fatal shootings here since 2010.
Boyd, 36, had been camping in a restricted area of open space at Albuquerque’s eastern edge. During a four-hour standoff with police who had responded to a call about Boyd from an area resident, he brandished two small knives multiple times.
One officer’s helmet-mounted camera captured the final moments of the encounter, when Boyd appeared to be complying with commands to leave the area. As he bent down to gather his belongings, an officer threw a flash-bang grenade at his feet. Another officer sicced a police dog on Boyd, who pulled the knives out of his pockets again. As he was turning away from the officers, two of them fired three rounds apiece from assault-style rifles, striking Boyd in the back.
Boyd, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, died later at the hospital.
Prosecutors will charge officer Dominique Perez of the APD SWAT team, and former detective Keith Sandy, who was allowed to retire from the department eight months after the shooting, by “criminal information,” the sources told KRQE News 13.
Filing charges by information is common in many parts of New Mexico, but rare in Bernalillo County. The process is authorized under New Mexico law and allows prosecutors to charge suspects without obtaining an indictment in a secret grand jury proceeding.
The move is likely to trigger a preliminary hearing in state District Court, where Sandy and Perez would be able to contest the charges. Prosecutors also would present evidence at the hearing, which would be open to the public. At its conclusion, a District Court judge would decide whether there is probable cause to bind one or both of the officers over for trial.
Brandenburg’s filing will charge Sandy and Perez with open counts of murder. That means a trial jury could consider a range of charges from voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison, to first-degree murder, which carries a potential life sentence.
Reached by telephone, Brandenburg refused to comment for this story. So did attorneys for the two officers.
In an earlier story, on Oct. 23, News 13 reported that a separate, FBI investigation of the Boyd shooting is unlikely to result in federal charges against the officers. That’s because federal authorities do not believe the evidence in the case is enough to get over the high bar required to charge police officers with criminal civil rights violations.
The state charges will land at a time of heavy turbulence for APD and Mayor Richard Berry’s administration.
The city and the U.S. Department of Justice are awaiting approval from a federal judge on a 106-page agreement they signed to resolve the DOJ’s findings of widespread excessive force by city police. Those findings followed an 18-month investigation in which federal officials found an over-aggressive culture among police, particularly APD’s specialized squads, and a leadership structure that has long refused to address problems.
More recently, two APD officers have been shot in the line of duty. Both remained hospitalized Sunday evening.
On Jan. 3, Christopher Cook allegedly shot 31-year APD veteran Lou Golson multiple times during an early morning traffic stop in the middle of town. Cook was arrested days later. He has been charged with attempted murder and other felonies. Golson is recovering at an area hospital.
Six days later, on Friday, two undercover narcotics detectives allegedly purchased $60 worth of methamphetamine through two 28-year-old men inside a police-owned, unmarked Lexus. As several plainclothes officers surrounded the car to make an arrest, one of them, Lt. Greg Brachle, opened fire. He struck one of the detectives with multiple rounds and grazed the other detective.
One of the detectives was in critical condition at an area hospital Sunday evening after multiple surgeries. News 13 is not naming either of the undercover detectives at the request of their families.
Charges in the Boyd case also come at a tumultuous time for Brandenburg.
On Nov. 25, APD Detective David Nix sent a 700-page, 22-DVD case file to the state Attorney General’s Office. The file included a letter that said APD believes probable cause exists that Brandenburg committed bribery or intimidation of a witness.
The case centers around burglary allegations against Brandenburg’s son, 26-year-old Justin Koch. Nix wrote in his police report that he believes Brandenburg tried to bribe victims of Koch’s burglaries in exchange for them not pressing charges against him.
Current and former law enforcement officers who have spoken with News 13 raised numerous questions about the viability of the case — and why the department chose to forward it to prosecutors. News 13 reported last month on a conversation between Nix and another detective in which they discussed how “weak” the case was. The other detective, Soren Ericksen, noted that ” … it’s gonna destroy a career.”
Based on a News 13 review of the case file, Nix appears to have concluded his investigation at the end of July. In October and early November, prosecutors from Brandenburg’s office told an attorney for the local police union and others at APD that they anticipated charging Sandy and Perez for Boyd’s death. At the end of November, Nix wrote his police report and sent the case to the AG’s Office.
Brandenburg has faced intense criticism from police-reform advocates and others for not charging any police officers in shooting cases.
On Monday, she will take the first step toward a significant departure for her office.