ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One of two former police officers standing trial on murder charges in the death of a homeless man took the stand Tuesday to testify in his own defense, marking the first time either officer has spoken publicly about the 2014 shooting that killed 38-year-old James Boyd and derailed the officers’ law enforcement careers.
Officer Dominique Perez’s testimony comes during the third week of the jury trial for him and now-retired Detective Keith Sandy. Both are charged with second-degree murder in the death of Boyd, who was camping illegally in Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountain foothills when a nearby resident reported him to police.
The shooting, captured on video by Perez’s helmet camera, sparked waves of protests in Albuquerque and led to calls from the city’s mayor for the U.S. Justice Department to speed an investigation into accusations of excessive force by local officers. That investigation later found a “culture of aggression” within the Albuquerque Police Department and set the stage for a settlement agreement to overhaul how the nearly 900-member police force trains officers to deal with the mentally ill and people in crisis.
Boyd was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Video of his March 16, 2014, standoff with police shows officers standing 20 to 30 feet away ordering him to surrender two knives he has on him and walk down the hillside with them.
In short bursts of outrage, Boyd yells death threats at officers in the video. At other points, he talks about opening a donut shop and going to a Denny’s restaurant, before appearing to prepare to surrender in the final minutes of the video.
As he is picking up his belongings and telling officers he’ll walk down the mountain with them, however, a flash-bang grenade is detonated on a rock to Boyd’s right, prompting him to pull his knives as a K-9 unit approaches him.
The officers’ attorneys say they were obligated to shoot at the end of the hourslong standoff to protect a K-9 handler who had come within 10 feet of Boyd.
Special prosecutor Randi McGinn argues that a series of flawed decisions by police — from interrupting negotiations between Boyd and an officer trained in crisis intervention to rushing a plan to deploy a flash-bang grenade, a K-9 and other less lethal force — escalated the encounter and led to Boyd’s shooting death.
Nineteen Albuquerque and state police officers, including tactical officers, responded to the scene of Boyd’s illegal campsite several hundred feet behind an Albuquerque neighborhood.