ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – After months of protests, national attention and investigations, the two Albuquerque Police officers who shot and killed homeless camper James Boyd now face murder charges.
“An information was filed against Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez this morning, charging them with an open count of murder,” Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg announced in a press conference on Monday.
They’re the first APD officers ever to be charged for a shooting on the job.
Helmet-cam video captured Sandy and Perez firing three shots each which killed Boyd in March 2014. The shooting has sparked protests throughout the city several times since last summer, and while many of them were peaceful, some protesters did threaten police and vandalized property. At the end of one protest, police in riot gear used tear gas to break up crowds.
At a news conference about the decision on Monday, Brandenburg said the decision isn’t based on feeling any increased pressure to prosecute officers after the recent Department of Justice investigation into APD.
Instead, Brandenburg said they found probable cause in this case that they didn’t find in other reviews of officer-involved shootings.
“What makes this case criminal are some of the facts that will come out of the prelim,” Brandenburg said. “I don’t want to get into the facts. I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize the integrity of this case.”
The preliminary hearing will be held in a few months, which will be, in essence, a transparent “mini-trial” where the proceedings will be held in open court. Afterward, the judge can decide whether to bind the men over to the murder charges. He could also decide to charge them with lesser crimes – or drop the case altogether.
In December 2014, KRQE News 13 reported that Brandenburg was considering a decision to pursue murder charges against the two officers. On Monday, Brandenburg filed the paperwork in district court against Sandy and Perez.
Brandenburg said the decision to charge the two officers was based solely on information that came from the investigation that APD conducted into the Boyd shooting. She says she and her staff made the decision together and say they struggled to come to it.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing it for the right reason, we want to make sure that it’s not politics, it’s not public opinion…I think I’m surrounded by people that are as concerned as I am about going home and being able to look at myself in the mirror,” Brandenburg said.
Attorneys for the Officers Speak Out
Sandy and Perez are facing murder charges, but they’re not behind bars – and their attorneys say, they will never be.
“He took a step with those two knives towards that APD dog handler,” Sandy’s attorney, Sam Bregman, said. “Keith was protecting an officer in the line of duty and did absolutely nothing criminal.”
Monday afternoon, Bregman held a press conference about the charges, where he adamantly denied that Sandy did anything wrong. Bregman says Sandy shot Boyd in order to protect his fellow K-9 officer from being attacked by Boyd. He says Sandy followed his APD training and did not commit a criminal act.
“He’s spent his whole career in life protecting people. And the idea that he’s charged with murder for protecting a fellow officer? You can imagine, that goes right to his core. It hurts, it hurts bad,” said Bregman.
“We have a difference of opinion. Both of the defendants have a right to a zealous counsel, we would want nothing less for them. I think they both have capable and able attorneys and we’re moving forward to a preliminary hearing,” said Brandenburg.
Perez’s attorney, Luis Robles, also pointed to the judgement calls police officers make during critical moments. He told KRQE News 13 in a statement, “This is truly a shame. Throughout his career, Officer Perez has been called upon to make life-altering decisions while protecting Albuquerque citizens and his fellow officers. And having made one of those decisions, Officer Perez now faces an open count of murder. Regardless, I am confident that the facts will vindicate Officer Perez’s actions in this case.”
A preliminary hearing will take place for both officers, although the date of that hearing has not been set.
Mayor R.J. Berry reacted to the charges Monday.
“We trust the judicial system will provide the family, our community and the officers a fair, transparent and unbiased opportunity to explore and present the facts as they relate to this tragic event,” Berry said. “It is important for all of us to allow the process to progress without prejudice in order for our community to move forward.”
KRQE News 13 spoke with the executive director at the American Civil Liberties Union about the decision. Peter Simonson said it’s heartening to know our city is taking these issues seriously and he can no longer ignore the use of excessive force against people in our community.
”It’s highly unusual that we have criminal charges being brought in a police case like this after literally decades of no such charges ever being filed,” Simonson said.
He said one the reasons a police officer hasn’t been charged in such a long time is because the justice department, here and nationwide, tends to treat police officers differently.