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Two Albuquerque police officers who in March shot and killed a mentally ill homeless man camping in the wilderness have now been charged with murder.
Video of the killing of 38-year-old James Boyd — captured by one of the officers' helmet camera — went viral in 2014 and sparked tense protests in New Mexico, prompting officers in riot gear to respond to protesters with tear gas.
The incident — one of a recent series of police killings in New Mexico over the past years — also led to the Albuquerque police department being investigated by the Department of Justice, which issued a scathing report of the city's law enforcement.
Following the report, federal officials ordered massive reforms on officers' use of force and announced the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the department.
On Monday Kari Brandenburg, the prosecutor in the case, announced the charges against the two officers — Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez — without referring the case to the grand jury, as was done in other high profile cases of police killings, including those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York.
Sandy and Perez have not been booked or arrested, and a judge will decide if the case is to proceed at a preliminary hearing, the date for which has not yet been set.
The decision to refer the Brown and Garner cases to grand juries — with both resulting in non-indictments for the officers — fueled more protests and calls for special prosecutors to be appointed to cases of police killings.
"It's critical to be transparent," Brandenburg said about the Albuquerque case. "And I believe that will be part of the healing process."
"Unlike Ferguson and unlike in New York City, some recent high-profile cases, we're going to know," she added. "The public's going to have that information, you all will have seen the witnesses, heard the argument and you'll understand hopefully perhaps why the judge made the decision that he or she made."
The attorney for one of the two officers called the charges "unjustified," and said his client "had not only the right, but the duty to defend a fellow police officer from a mentally unstable, violent man."
Sandy and Perez were responding to a report that a mentally ill homeless man was illegally camping out in the wilderness. They arrived on the scene to find the man brandishing two pocketknives. They shot him, and then, while he was already laying on the ground, fired a few beanbag rounds into him. Boyd died the next morning.
Albuquerque police have been involved in 40 shootings, 27 of which have been deadly, since 2010. The charges against Sandy and Perez are the first against an APD officer for an on-duty fatal shooting in at least 50 years, according to the Albuquerque Journal.