If brand-new Albuquerque police chief Gorden Eden won’t admit overuse of deadly force in the recent shooting of James Boyd, Santa Fe residents hope the point will be driven home — literally — when they bring a hearse to town on Tuesday.
Novelist Frances Madeson is organizing the funeral procession that will leave Santa Fe in the afternoon and head to neighboring Albuquerque. There, Madeson intends to join the 6 PM protest planned against the police killing of Boyd, a homeless and mentally ill man APD discovered illegally camping out in the Sandia foothills.
“New Mexico is a small state and the police culture here seems to be growing more paramilitary in nature,” Madeson told VICE News, “What happens in another city does affect us if we let it go unchecked.”
APD chief Eden was sworn in this February after the former chief resigned amid a growing police brutality scandal. In a press conference last Friday, Eden said that the Boyd shooting was justified because he was armed with small knives and threatened the officers — who were armed with guns, flash grenades, beanbag rifles, rubber bullets, Tasers, and an attack dog.
This video, released at Friday’s press conference, shows the deadly portion of what APD said was a three-hour standoff between Boyd and police.
The footage — filmed via one officer’s helmet-mounted camera — shows Boyd pleading with officers not to hurt anyone and saying he’s ready to walk with them. When Boyd stoops to pick up his backpack, police suddenly launch a flash grenade at his feet and yell at him to get on the ground. When he turns to do so, the officers fire several rounds at his back and he falls forward.
As officers approach Boyd, they pause and then fire several beanbag rounds into his unmoving body, and then release a K9 attack dog that tears at his legs while he continues to lay motionless. Officers then approach the injured man and the video shows him holding two knives.
"The officers were attempting to affect a felony arrest using less-than lethal weapons, including a distractive device, K9, and a Taser shotgun," Eden said.
"The suspect did in fact make a decision not to follow the directions that (were) provided to him by the officers," Eden stated. "On many occasions he said that he was not going to come off that mountain."
Police said that Boyd had threatened to kill officers at the scene and he had a long criminal record.
VICE News showed the APD footage to Maki Haberfeld, Chair of the Law and Police Science program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. According to Haberfeld, each of the 18,000 police departments in the US engages with the public according to its own standard operating procedures and patrol guides. That makes it difficult to address concerns that APD may have deviated from arrest protocols for handling a person with a known history of mental illness.
“When police realize they are dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, you can not just follow protocol,” Haberfeld said. “But it’s not something that can be judged by an outsider. It’s truly subjective.”
“Use of force never looks pretty. Since officers are wearing these mounted cameras, they are on their best behavior so to speak — it would be very hard to say they are not following their own protocol,” said Haberfeld.
She also pointed out that, since the APD video shows only a brief portion of what Eden claimed was a three-hour standoff, “I don’t know if there’s some sort of encounter, whether he threatened an officer or a member of the public. You truly do not know what went on in the officers’ minds.”
Eden has claimed his force indeed followed protocol in the Boyd shooting. According to Procedural Order 2-13 of its own manual, APD is supposed to send a crisis team to handle mentally ill suspects.
The police chief said an APD Crisis Intervention Team officer and a State Police liaison arrived at the scene and were unable to calm Boyd, who kept continuing to threaten the lives of his officers. Boyd’s official cause of death has not yet been released.
Madeson, however, said: “Increasingly you see people who defy the police as power figures and are being hurt badly,” Madeson said. “This man, James Boyd, was clearly executed without a trial in a state with no death penalty. I think people are ready now to confront power and say this has got to stop.”
Boyd’s death is only the latest in a disturbing trend of police killings in Albuquerque. According to Joel Gallegos, of the New Mexico chapter of ANSWER Coalition, 20 residents of the city have been killed by police in the past four years.
In a special Albuquerque Journal report this January, it was estimated that police misconduct lawsuits have cost taxpayers at least $24 million in settlements since 2010. The report contains detailed listings of every police misconduct case involving excessive use of force, including video footage from 2011 that shows APD officers kicking a man nearly to death while he lay facedown in a parking garage.
“This is a routine sort of thing. The only difference is now we have video footage that confirms what we’ve known all along, which is that police officers make a non-issue into a problem,” Gallegos told VICE News. “Any sort of social worker could have handled the situation. Police knew in advance that he had a history of mental illness. Instead of sending a health care professional, they sent a heavily armed paramilitary squad.”
ANSWER is part of a coalition of local groups organizing Tuesday’s march to police headquarters. With national attention pouring in after the video was released, Gallegos expects this to be Albuquerque’s largest demonstration yet.
The Department of Justice began an investigation last year into APD’s use of deadly force, and is reported to be wrapping that up, but VICE News could not reach a spokesperson for comment.
“As of yet, the DOJ has done nothing,” Gallegos said. “I’m afraid that even if they come out with a report, the response will be throwing a few officers under the bus and then wiping their hands clean.”
Follow Mary O'Hara on Twitter: @MaryEmilyOHara
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