ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Lawyers began making their final case to jurors on Thursday in the trial of two former Albuquerque police officers charged with second-degree murder in the on-duty shooting death of a mentally ill homeless man that was captured on police video and set off protests in New Mexico's largest city.
The closing arguments by a special prosecutor and defense attorneys for now-retired Detective Keith Sandy and former Officer Dominique Perez follow nearly three-weeks of testimony that focused on whether James Boyd was posing a threat or turning away when he was shot in March 2014.
Defense attorney Sam Bregman says Sandy and Perez opened fire on Boyd to protect a K-9 handler who was near him.
The trial also scrutinized how and when police should deploy force or deescalate encounters with people suffering from mental illness at a time when shootings by police has become a central national topic. Boyd had paranoid schizophrenia.
"You were not supposed to hold him personally responsible for being mentally ill," special prosecutor Randi McGinn stated Wednesday during pointed questioning of Sandy.
She added during her closing argument Thursday that ""no one should be above the law."
Perez and Sandy were among 18 officers charged in 2015 with murder or manslaughter stemming from on-duty shootings. Like the Boyd shooting, a majority of those cases were captured by police lapel or dashcam cameras, or bystander video.
"Here's the thing about the evidence in the video: It cannot lie. It is what it is," McGinn told jurors. "Don't listen to the words, look at the video."
Boyd was 38 and camping in the Sandia Mountain foothills when a resident reported his illegal campsite several hundred feet behind a neighborhood. Two officers responded with weapons drawn but not pointed at Boyd and called for help after they tried to pat him down and Boyd pulled knives.
Nearly 20 officers responded over the next several hours with rifles, handguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and smoke bombs. During the standoff, Boyd shouted death threats at the officers from his perch on a hillside and expressed fears they would shoot him.
McGinn spent much of the trial underscoring the role she says Sandy played in making a series of flawed decisions that agitated Boyd — from interrupting negotiations between Boyd and an officer trained in crisis intervention to rushing a failed plan to take him into custody with less-lethal force.
McGinn questioned him on the witness stand about being fired from the State Police over his involvement in a time card fraud scandal, and the year and a half he spent on the Repeat Offenders Project, an aggressive Albuquerque police unit that was dismantled shortly after the shooting under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.
A Justice Department investigation found that Albuquerque police engaged in a pattern of excessive force, especially in encounters with mentally ill people and others in crisis who could not comply with officers' commands.
Sandy responded to the standoff with Boyd because a sergeant had requested a Taser shotgun. He arrived at the same time as a State Police sergeant he knew. The sergeant's dashcam video recorded Sandy calling Boyd "a lunatic."
"It was just a word I used," Sandy testified. "I regret saying it deeply ... I have not used the word since."
Perez was among the last to arrive after his SWAT sergeant asked him to respond.
He drove to the campsite hearing other officers say over radio traffic that Boyd was threatening officers and that he also had a history of violence against police, including one instance in which he broke an officer's nose.
A few minutes after Perez arrived, he yelled for Sandy to detonate a flash-bang grenade, which went off near Boyd's feet but not close enough to startle him so officers could take him into custody. Perez and Sandy opened fire seconds later.