ALBUQUERQUE (CN) - The shooting death of a mentally ill homeless man in the foothills outside Albuquerque is symptomatic of a culture of violence, dishonesty, and lack of accountability in the Albuquerque Police Department, the late man's brother said this week in a lawsuit against the city and its police.
James Matthew Boyd was camping on March 16 in an unauthorized area - a petit misdemeanor - when he was confronted by Albuquerque police officers who tried to arrest him.
When police found that Boyd had a knife among his belongings, the confrontation turned into a 4½-hour standoff involving at least 41 officers and at least one police attack dog.
Boyd's brother, plaintiff Andrew Jones, says in the lawsuit that helmet camera video shows that while Boyd was trying to surrender, officers "threw a flash bang at him, released a dog to take him down, and shot him with a Taser rifle."
Police quickly followed up by shooting him three times, shooting ham again with beanbag rounds, releasing a dog to attack him, then shooting him again with a Taser. Mr. Boyd's last recorded words were "Please don't hurt me" and "I can't move," according to the 30-page lawsuit, filed Monday in Bernalillo County Court.
Police Chief Gorden Eden called the use of force justified - which prompted Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry to say that Eden had "acted prematurely" by saying so, and Eden to say that "perhaps he had spoken too soon."
But neither Chief Eden nor the APD has taken any direct action against the supervising officers involved in the incident, nor declared the use of force to be unjustified, Boyd's brother says in the lawsuit.
Jones calls this lack of accountability typical of the culture of the Albuquerque police. From 2009 to 2014, Albuquerque police officers were involved in 40 shootings. Not a single officer involved in any of the shootings was disciplined, and none of the shootings were ruled unjustified, according to the complaint.
The U.S. Department of Justice began investigating Albuquerque police in November 2012, and in April this the report was released, stating that the DOJ had found "reasonable cause to believe that APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment."
The Justice Department cited a culture of aggression "manifested in the routine nature of excessive force and lack of corrective actions taken by the leadership to address force incidents."
Jones says in the lawsuit that then-Mayor Martin Chavez decided in 2006 to add 100 officers to the police force. To do so, the APD lowered its hiring standards for officers, even forgoing extensive background checks and psychological evaluations for lateral hires. This allowed APD to hire officers despite a history of conduct that would previously have disqualified them, according to the complaint.
As an example, the complaint singles out Officer Keith Sandy, who was hired by APD in 2007 after being terminated from the New Mexico State Police for 'double-dipping' - receiving payments from a private security company while on duty with state police. Despite having been initially deemed by APD as "unfit to carry a badge or gun," Sandy was placed in APD tactical units as a plainclothes detective without passing a psychological "fit for duty" screening evaluation. Sandy allegedly was the first APD officer to shoot James Boyd.
Lack of training and accountability is rampant within the APD, according to the lawsuit. The APD does not require officers to report all use of force incidents, nor detail the manner in which use of force incidents should be investigated. In fact, APD investigates its own officer-involved shootings as "aggravated batteries against an officer," according to the complaint.
This culture of insularity is reinforced by APD's general policies, which do not require psychological screening prior to an officer joining a special operations unit, nor disqualify officers from joining special operations units if they have a history of complaints, dishonesty or excessive use of force, the complaint states.
Jones claims that failures in training, accountability and command structure led directly to the shooting death of James Boyd.
At a scene which held 41 officers, including at least 10 field units, at least five Special Investigations Division Units, five SWAT officers, three K9 officers and at least three sergeants, there was no clear commander at the scene, the complaint states.
Officers who had received Crisis Intervention Training, designed to teach officers to create safe encounters with people who are in a mental health crisis, were not allowed to take control, though Boyd had responded positively to the one CIT-trained officer who spoke to him.
Instead, officers on scene "mocked and criminalized Mr. Boyd's obvious mental illness, needlessly pointing guns at him for hours," the complaint states.
After the police violence, Jones claims - after his brother had been shot, Tasered, hit with beanbag rounds, attacked by a dog, and then Tasered again - he lay "wheezing, gasping for air for approximately twenty minutes before he was transported to the hospital. APD officers did not render medical care."
Jones damages for battery, wrongful death and negligent hiring, and an injunction forcing the Albuquerque Police Department to improve its training, screening and internal policies on use of force.
He is represented by Joseph Kennedy with Kennedy, Kennedy & Ives in Albuquerque.
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