The murder trial for two former Albuquerque police officers who shot and killed James Boyd has been going on all week in district court.
Public Health New Mexico’s Marisa Demarco has been at the courthouse covering the trial. She spoke with KUNM’s Chris Boros
CHRIS: So, most people in New Mexico probably remember the footage from the March 2014 police shooting of James Boyd - a short clip went viral, touched off demonstrations. People called for an end to violence here from police in Albuquerque. But this had been an issue here for a long time right?
MARISA: Absolutely. So between 2010 and 2014, Albuquerque had a higher fatal police shooting rate then New York City or Chicago. One of the first shootings that I remember getting a lot of attention was of Iraq War veteran Kenneth Ellis back in 2010. His sister did some advocacy around crisis training for police and brought a bill to the legislature after her brother was killed.
A CopWatch formed here in Albuquerque that was observing police, filming, taking photos, being witnesses to interaction, and the U.S. Department of Justice came in 2012. So, that was even a couple years or like a year and some change before James Boyd was killed. The pressure had really been kind of steadily mounting about police violence in Albuquerque over those years. And that doesn’t even go back into the 1990’s when there were similar objections about a really high number of police shootings and there was this report that suggested a bunch of reforms that were never adopted by APD. So this has been going on in Albuquerque for quite some time.
CHRIS: Now, there has been a lot of history being added to what you know, we know about James Boyd and these police officers and the decisions that they made that day. Are the attorneys changing the way we see that footage when we look back on it now?
MARISA: You know, I think that’s what so much of this trial, and especially the opening statements is that they’re trying to re-contextualize the video and give all the people in it a back story. So the prosecution’s trying to humanize James Boyd. Lawyer Randi McGinn is trying to fill in why he may have chosen to live out there, saying James Boyd was mentally ill. He might not have wanted to be around people but maybe also wanted to be close enough to walk into Albuquerque to get some food. She’s also trying to talk about how scared he was, that the police startled him and because he was so scared, that’s why he was holding these knives and making threats.
The defense is trying to say that Boyd was totally dangerous, that he posed a threat, that he was uncontrollable. And they’re talking about the police officers and their lives, saying that Keith Sandy had gone to church that day and was feeding his horses and visiting his family before going to the scene, and that when he shot James Boyd, he was trying to save this canine officer who was moving towards Boyd unarmed. So everybody is trying to pick apart this couple of minutes that we’ve all seen on this video and kind of explain different facets of it. They’re trying to say that Boyd was not surrendering when he turned away, but [was] getting ready to attack so there’s been a lot of conversation about what was going on in just that couple of minutes that we’ve seen in that footage.
CHRIS: A lot of this trial is different from a typical murder trial because here it’s the police who are charged with murder instead of the police trying to help put someone else away. How is this reversal affecting what’s happening in the courtroom?
MARISA: Usually when there’s a shooting and someone has died, the weapons are collected and examined and stored until the trial and the suspects are arrested or interrogated and ideally the people who are involved, aren’t the ones who are briefing investigators. So this one was different from the very start because no police have been charged with murder in Albuquerque that anyone can remember and that’s kind of true around the country. There are some cases but there are really not that many.
So the procedures are all different. It seems like they weren’t really thinking about this as a murder trial. So for instance, yesterday they said the rifle that was used to shoot Boyd wasn’t allowed into trial. Even though it’s a murder trial, the weapon isn’t part of the evidence and that’s because it was given back to the police officer and eventually put into circulation among police again. So, we heard that the officers Perez and Keith Sandy, they didn’t give any statements before they left the crime scene. And we heard that the guy who did the briefing for the investigators when they arrived at the scene is the same officer who Sandy said he was protecting when he shot Boyd. So all of this is really unusual.
KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Con Alma Health Foundation and McCune Charitable Foundation.