ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – An Albuquerque officer shot and killed a man camping in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains Sunday night after the man threatened officers with a knife, police said Monday.
According to Eden, officers arrived at the foothills after receiving a call about a suspicious person. After the man threatened the officers’ lives, they requested a Crisis Intervention Team, Eden said.
“He did have weapons. We know factually that he kept producing knives and threatened the officers with knives,” Eden said during a press conference following the shooting.
However, when state police arrived to the scene, the man also was hostile with them, Eden said.
Eden said “less-than-lethal force” was used to calm the man but an officer eventually fired one shot.
The name of the officer in the shooting has not been released.
“We have officers that have not been interviewed, so we’re trying to provide you with factual information as quick as we can,” Eden told reporters late Sunday.
The shooting comes as Albuquerque police face a U.S. Justice Department investigation into three dozen shootings since 2010 and allegations of excessive force. Outcry over the shootings led the department to make a number of changes, including requiring all officers to wear lapel cameras and increasing hiring standards.
It’s the Albuquerque Police Department’s first police shooting under Eden, who became chief at the end of February.
ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Outrage has ignited over a helmet-cam video of officers fatally confronting a homeless man at his primitive campsite in the foothills. Video shows the man standing by his meager possessions, surrounded by rifle-toting officers who were citing him for illegally camping without government permission. Officers ultimately tossed a concussion grenade in his face, sicced an attack dog on him, and shot him to death with a flurry of gunfire.
The incident took place on Sunday, March 16th. Police were tipped off about an unauthorized camper in the Sandia Foothills in the outskirts of Albuquerque. Officers came upon James M. Boyd, 38, who was evidently living at his campsite. The police chief confirmed that the man was sleeping when officers arrived.
“Camping is not permitted in Open Space without a permit,” the City of Albuquerque states on its website. Boyd, who was homeless, had no permit. His unauthorized stay on the desolate hillside would not go unpunished.
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) confronted Boyd and began harassing him about his living arrangements. When one officer attempted to search Boyd, he did not comply. Boyd claimed he was himself a government agent who worked for the Department of Defense. Boyd stated that he would use force to protect himself “because you’re trying to take me over.”
APD researched Boyd’s personal medical history and discovered past treatments for mental health issues, which is quite common among the homeless population. Instead of leaving him alone, APD continued to escalate the situation with more officers and overwhelming force.
Police argued with Boyd for approximately 3 hours on the rocky foothills. The dramatic scene involved officers training rifles at Mr. Boyd, some of which was captured on video by a bystander and also of which was recorded by at least one officer’s helmet-cam.
APD deployed members of the ROP Team to deal with this “mentally unstable homeless person.” The ROP Team (Repeat Offender Project) is an elite unit of cops that work in plainclothes and deal with the “worst” of Albuquerque’s criminals. They were joined by an APD Crisis Intervention Team officer as well as New Mexico State Police.
When the situation reached its climax around 7:30 p.m., Boyd had allegedly agreed to end the standoff, but warned APD that they must keep their word.
“Don’t change up the agreement,” Boyd said to officers. “I’m going to try and walk now. Don’t try to harm me. If you keep your word, I can keep you safe.”
Boyd put on his backpack. He reached down to pick up a thermos, placed it in his right hand and grabbed a blue bag in his left hand.
“Don’t worry about safety, I’m not a [expletive] murderer,” Boyd continued. “Don’t try it. Don’t try to harm me. I won’t try to harm you. Alright?”
Boyd tried to walk away. But police were not going to let that happen.
“Do it,” one of the officers said, and a flashbang grenade was lobbed at Boyd’s feet. A loud explosion and a puff of smoke followed.
Police can be heard shouting, “Get on the ground,” as they rushed in with weapons trained on him. A barking K9 advanced toward him. Mr. Boyd, now under attack, dropped his bags and instinctively retrieved a knife from his pocket. Nevertheless, he did not advance and did not make any threatening gestures. The nearest officer still remained several feet away.
Boyd stood there for approximately 5 seconds, then turned away from officers and began to descend to the ground — possibly a sign of compliance with demands to get on the ground. For reasons unclear, police opened fire. A volley of rifle rounds, beanbag rounds, and tasers fired at the man in near unison.
Watch raw video of the confrontation here:
James Boyd fell instantly to the ground. Officers barked orders at him to get his hands up. Boyd could be heard on video saying “I can’t move.”
“Please don’t hurt me anymore,” he moaned.
Unsatisfied, police opened fire again, this time on his prone, lifeless body with beanbag rounds from a shotgun. He did not budge after repeated strikes. Next, the police dog was turned loose on him and gnawed on his leg. He remained unresponsive.
Officers then moved in and secured his body. Boyd did not survive.
Ultimately, 15 seconds after agreeing to end the standoff, he was shot and lying on the ground.
When asked if the shooting was justified, Police Chief Gordon Eden said, “Do I believe it was justified shooting? Yes, if you follow case law, ‘Garner versus Tennessee’, there was directed threat to an officer.” Eden’s reference was an attempt to justify the shooting of Mr. Boyd as he walked away. In Tennessee v. Garner, police shot a fleeing 15-year-old in the back of the head as he tried to climb a fence. The Supreme Court ruled that it was reasonable to kill suspects as they try to escape, even if unarmed, if the officers have a probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.
Whether that case law is relevant to the killing of James Boyd remains to be seen. But the department stands by the homicide. Chief Eden also pointed out that “less than lethal devices” had been used, as if to justify the use of deadly force.
Others were not so convinced. KRQE interviewed an experienced attorney who has gone after APD before for its wrongful killings.
“I’m shocked, I’ve never seen a murder captured on videotape before,” said attorney Joe Kennedy to KRQE. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
The attorney says that police officers created their own danger by removing the distance between themselves and Mr. Boyd, suggesting that police claim their lives are in danger when they actually are not.
“The big lie is anytime our officers shoot, they had a right to shoot because they felt threatened, and if this doesn’t convince this chief and this mayor that officers are out there killing people without justification, I don’t know what will,” said Kennedy.
“If they’re giving him an order to get down on the ground and he behaves in a manner that looks like he’s getting down on the ground, at what right do you have to shoot him?” said Kennedy.
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