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Two Albuquerque cops will face charges of second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and battery in connection with the March 2014 shooting death of homeless man James Boyd, a New Mexico judge decided today.
Preliminary hearing arguments came to a close on Tuesday and the judge ruled that former Detective Keith Sandy and Officer Dominique Perez will stand trial for the killing of the schizophrenic 38-year-old, according to NBC. Boyd's death was captured in a graphic video recorded by a camera on one of the officer's lapels. The footage went viral, prompting outrage and turmoil across New Mexico that culminated with clashes between protesters and riot police with tear gas.
Sandy and Perez responded to a report that a mentally ill homeless man was illegally camping out in the wilderness. Boyd was reportedly brandishing two pocket knives when the officers arrived on the scene. The video shows Boyd standing uphill from the officers, surrounded by scrubby New Mexico terrain. One of the officers says "Do it," before opening fire. Then, with Boyd already lying on the ground, the officers fire a few more rounds into his body.
Prosecutors initially sought to charge the Albuquerque officers with first-degree murder. Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg filed first-degree murder charges against Sandy and Perez in January, but was disqualified in April after a judge ruled there was a conflict of interest.
In June, special prosecutor on the case Randi McGinn, an Albuquerque medical malpractice and wrongful death lawyer, announced plans to instead pursue several charges against Sandy and Perez, including second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and aggravated battery.
Asked by VICE News at the time if she was confident about winning the case considering the video evidence, McGinn scoffed.
"Confident? Video evidence or no video evidence, I don't think confident is the right word, given the history of police officers being charged for their actions," she said.
McGinn said most prosecutors in the area were unwilling to step forward and take the case. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Sandy and Perez are the first officers in the city to face charges as a result of an on-duty fatal shooting in at least 50 years.
During the pre-trial testimony McGinn highlighted the fact that Boyd was shot in the back, while the defense attorneys claim the cops were looking out for a fellow cop. The men have not yet been arraigned.
The charges come after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the city of Albuquerque selected an independent monitor in January to direct an overhaul of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), which has reported 40 officer-involved shootings since 2010. According to federal officials, police reform expert James R. Ginger was selected to lead a team tasked with managing and evaluating compliance efforts to revamp the department.
Ginger's appointment was part of an agreement the city made with the DOJ to carry out the overhaul and bring wide-ranging reforms to the force, an initiative that stems from a federal investigation into the excessive use of force by the city's police. Officials released a report about the investigation in April, stating there was "reasonable cause to believe that APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force."
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