The city of Albuquerque will pay $5 million to the estate of a homeless man killed by police last year, though the city and the Albuquerque Police Department did not acknowledge fault.
The payout announced Friday will settle the city’s role in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in federal court by the estate of James Boyd, a homeless and mentally ill man shot to death on March 16, 2014, in a confrontation with police that began as a complaint about Boyd camping illegally in the Sandia Mountains.
The case sparked angry protests, strained relations between the region’s top prosecutor and police and cast a harsh spotlight on a Police Department that critics said was out of control and prone to use force when it wasn’t necessary.
In January, Bernalillo County Dist. Atty. Kari Brandenburg proposed murder charges against Officer Dominique Perez and now-retired Det. Keith Sandy, but a judge ruled Brandenburg could no longer handle the case because of a conflict of interest. Special prosecutor Randi McGinn brought second-degree murder charges against Perez and Sandy in late June.
“Because the killing of James Matthew Boyd was so needless, so preventable, and visual, finally, Albuquerque and department officials could not continue to turn away,” said the Boyd family's attorney, Shannon Kennedy, in a statement Friday.
Twenty-eight people have been shot to death by Albuquerque police over the last five years, a per capita rate eight times that of New York.
The shootings have sparked protests across the city, and a U.S. Justice Department report in 2014 found excessive deadly force and “broken” oversight at the Police Department, particularly concerning its dealings with the mentally ill.
But until the charges against Sandy and Perez, not a single officer had been charged in a shooting during the last 50 years, and certainly none during the 14 years Brandenburg has held office.
Albuquerque City Atty. Jessica Hernandez said in a statement Friday that the city and its Police Department are advancing with reforms prescribed by the Justice Department report.
“We are hopeful that resolving this difficult and emotional case is a significant step in moving forward as a community,” Hernandez said.
The police officers who shot Boyd said they feared for their lives when Boyd advanced on them with a pair of knives, but a police video of the incident widely shared online showed he'd taken the knives out of his pocket only after one of the dozens of police officers confronting him at his campsite fired a stun grenade and another officer unleashed a police dog.
Still, Boyd appeared in the video to be turning away as officers fired six shots. He quickly collapsed.
“Please don't hurt me anymore,” Boyd said in the video.
The settlement releases the city of all claims regarding Boyd’s death.
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