Monday, March 24, 2014

A City Shaken To Its Core: Shocking Video Of APD Shooting Mentally Disturbed Suspect Unleashes Public Scorn And Renewed Calls For Change; Our Full Coverage With All Angles And Reader Analysis, Plus: Rep. Jeff Faces Petition Challenge 

Amid a growing public clamor, Mayor Berry Monday afternoon said he has asked the Justice Department to investigate the APD killing of James Boyd.

Astonishing video of ABQ police shooting and killing a mentally disturbed man accused of illegally camping in the Sandia foothills grabbed the city by its collar and shook it to its core.

It raises anew just who and what will stop the out-of-control police culture that is costing human life, millions in lawsuit settlements, prompted the US Justice Department to launch a far-reaching civil rights investigation and threatens the city's ability to attract and keep businesses.

The fatal shooting of homeless 38 year old James Boyd that appeared so tragically unnecessary to so many has all the markings of a defining moment. But we've thought that before only to see more sensational headlines of rogue police behavior.

Still, the adjectives being used by the public on the websites of news outlets--"outrageous" "barbaric" "deplorable," "disgraceful" "sickening"--were coated with the fury and indignation that often precede change.

Importantly, partisan barriers melted away in the aftermath of the Friday afternoon release of the alarming video. Veteran Democratic consultant Scott Forrester labeled the shooting "deplorable" and added, "something has to change."

On Facebook, Republican attorney and former ABQ GOP state Representative Justine Fox-Young condemned the police action.

And ABQ Republican attorney Colin Hunter summed up the crisis enveloping APD and the city this way:

I don't know what is worse: the two officers who opened fire on a clearly disturbed person, who posed absolutely no threat to anybody but himself, or the officer who unleashed the dog to maul the victim's nearly lifeless corpse, while he lay motionless in a pool of his own blood, or, the fact, that APD Chief Eden, after seeing that video, can, with a straight face, claim the officers actions were justified. The department has proven once again, that it is completely incapable of holding anybody accountable--even in the most egregious of cases.

Millions of dollars in civil judgements have had no impact. Being investigated by the Department of Justice for systemic civil rights violations has changed nothing. The District Attorney has proven, in every case, that her office has no intention of holding anybody accountable, no matter how egregious the circumstances. Our city cannot afford both financially and morally to allow the status quo to continue. The city has proven time and time again, under two successive Chiefs--that it has no intention of making any changes. If any Department was in need of intervention by the Department of Justice--it's APD. Hopefully very soon.


Boyd lay dying next to blood-soaked rocks in the Sandia foothills. He had been subjected to two stun gun rounds, six rounds of gunfire, a bean bag and a police canine attack. It was the fatal police shooting that sent the thus far apathetic public over the edge.

This T-shirt popped up for sale for $15.00. It says APD stands for "Another Person Dead." The site says:

We created this shirt as a way to bring awareness to the high number of controversial shootings of the mentally disabled and citizens here in Albuquerque. 

The company feels in some of these deaths the police had alternative options and staff available to them.

33% of the profits will go directly to a local Albuquerque Mental Health facility. Give someone locally the hand up that they need with each and every shirt we sell.


APD Chief Eden (Hanson, ABQ Journal)
So here we are. Waiting. Again. Mayor Berry refuses to act. Ditto for Chief Administrative Officer Perry, the somnolent ABQ city council, the district attorney, the attorney general and the police oversight commission.

Berry was said to be out of town and unavailable for comment on the shooting. What? They don't have cell phones there? No Skype to do a TV interview?

(City Councilor Benton and Don Harris--in whose district the shooting took place--did make  comments questioning the shooting, Councilor Sanchez made comments Sunday, asking for a federal investigation).

This is cultural rot accompanied by a systemic breakdown in the checks and balances on a police department that apparently sees itself at war with its own citizenry--or at least a segment of it that commands little power or respect.

The military atmosphere surrounding the gunning down of Boyd reminded one of a terrorist operation in a war zone like Afghanistan or Iraq, not one of a civilian police force that is sworn to "protect and serve."

As The Economist asks this week of police departments: "Cops or Soldiers?"

TV news reported that the video has one of the officers who shot Boyd exclaiming "booyah," an expression of joy. Police were quick to say that this was actually an order to the police canine at the scene. Really?

And the "lengthy" criminal record that police released of the mentally unbalanced Boyd hardly portrayed a man who--armed only with two knives--was somehow a homicidal maniac presenting imminent danger to the lives of the heavily armed officers on the scene. Besides, this is not about the victim's character. It's about him being dead at the hands of APD and whether he should be alive today.

The city had a chance to change direction when Chief Schultz left. City leaders were urged to choose a chief from outside the state with no connections with APD and begin the clean-up, but they chose a politically connected insider who now may regret what he has gotten himself into.

Chief Gorden Eden's refusal to stand for reporters' questions for more than only a few minutes at Friday's news conference told us that the "us against them" mantra remains the guiding (and misguided) principle of this deeply troubled, dysfunctional and too often deadly police department.

Patience is growing thin. If local institutions have utterly failed in their responsibility to rein in an APD run amok, where is the Justice Department and US Attorney General Eric Holder? The foothills shooting is like a mouthful of spit to their collective faces.


Comments and analysis from our readers on the shooting that shook the city. . . .


A reader writes:

APD Chief Gordon Eden shredded his own credibility at a news conference he eventually walked out of. Instead of simply saying he would look at all the facts, his knee-jerk reaction was to rule the shooting “justifiable.

New APD Chief Eden just blew his chance to be the chief who turned APD around. No one watching the video will believe how he defended the actions of those officers. Eden's honeymoon ended in less than a couple weeks. Everyone knew where this was heading when he announced his press conference six days after the shooting, during the UNM Lobo NCAA game. Transparent? The only thing transparent is Eden's hope that no one would come to his press conference.


A reader writes:

Mayor Berry. Where is Richard Berry? He will go down as the worst mayor we ever elected. He should have been standing there with Eden. It's his police department. It's his chief. Berry hides, again. Will this city ever get tired of spineless Berry? This is the first check and balance that has failed the citizens. Next time Berry is on TV wanting pats on the back for his homeless initiative the media needs to ask him if part of his initiative is to turn a blind eye to his police department killing the homeless.

And another Berry critic:

Responsibility for the outcome rests with the officers at the scene, but they’re not entirely to blame. The real problem is City Hall. Instead of addressing APD’s issues, the city has gotten spin and one rationalization after another that everything is just fine. Boyd’s shooting damningly refutes that fiction. 

Berry has been mayor since 2009. He picked the last two chiefs, as well as a chief public safety officer. This is his APD. Yet during the crisis, Berry has been out of town, hidden from the media and unavailable for comment. That’s not leadership. That’s political cowardice, but typical of Berry’s laid-back style and desire to only engage the press with happy talk. Unless that style changes, or until the mayor is held accountable, what makes anyone think we’ll never see another shooting like this one?


A reader writes:

As usual, where’s the City Council? To date only Councilors Benton, Harris and Sanchez have weighed in on the shooting. The other six have followed R.J. Berry’s lead and remained unavailable for comment, while Councilor Trudy Jones (according the ABQ Journal) says she hasn’t even seen the Boyd video. This city council is worthless and nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Berry Administration.

(Councilor Ken Sanchez has called for a federal investigation of the Boyd shooting.)


A reader writes:

Is the Department of Justice going to do something or not? They’ve been here almost a year and a half and we’re still waiting for action. If DOJ’s plan is to just sweep APD’s problems under the rug and issue a bland, whitewash of a report, do the citizens and taxpayers a favor and throw your window dressing up now. Quit wasting money. We’re going to need it to pay for all the lawsuits APD is costing us.


A reader writes:

Great timing, APD. You have one of the most horrific shootings in city history while the state is bending over backwards to land Tesla's gigafactory and its 6,500 jobs. What’s our message supposed to be? “We’re here for you Tesla. Just don’t let your employees camp out in the Open Space or run afoul of APD?”


A reader writes:

This does point out an even bigger issue--the failure of our business community and elected leaders to rebuild our economy. A huge reason we are last in child well-being and in economic recovery is because Gov. Martinez and Mayor Berry have done nothing. When you have a large number of your citizens unemployed and struggling this is the outcome. When you have a police department that has been poorly managed for the last decade you have the perfect storm. More homeless, mentally ill, substance abusers, drop outs, children at risk etc. and a police department in turmoil. A recipe for disaster.


Retired APD Seargent Dan Klein, who follows police matters closely, comes with this:

Joe, in the video the suspect was starting to comply with the officers--they appeared to have reached an agreement. He was unarmed when he was walking down the hill. Then the flash bang grenade gets tossed by the K9 officer. Was this the plan all along? To lie to the homeless guy? If so this violates the first rule of negotiating--never lie or promise something you will not give. If they did lie to this guy I can promise that APD will have issues with other homeless, mentally ill and just people in crisis. Word will travel fast and no one will believe APD when they show up. Trust is everything and once you lose it you will have to work hard for years to rebuild it.


ABQ attorney Rosario Vega Lynn questioned Chief Eden's legal justification for the shooting of Boyd:

The case law cited by Eden for justifying the shooting is for a fleeing felon. Foot pursuits are treated very differently than a poor guy like Boyd stuck in some rocks. He was in a position where he couldn't flee. Eden says Boyd was a danger to officers and other hikers but that goes to show that APD failed to secure the area. Boyd wasn't a danger to the K9 officer nor the K9 who wasn't able to perform like it should have. Boyd was only a danger to himself and that seems to be the APD mindset --kill him before he kills himself?


A protest of Boyd's fatal shooting and APD is planned for Tuesday at 6 p.m. Protestors will gather at the Alvarado Transportation Center at Central Avenue and 1st St. and then march to APD headquarters.


We blogged this week of rumblings that Dem State Rep. Sandra Jeff could face a challenger to her candidacy for re-election. Well, those rumblings turned to reality Friday when the environmental group Conservation Voters New Mexico (CVNM) said it will finance a challenge to Jeff's petition signatures in McKinley County district court by environmental activist Larry King.

The suit says Jeff--who is seeking a fourth, two year term--has enough bad signatures that she does not meet the minimum requirement and should be disqualified from running. A court hearing will soon decide.

The big picture is that Jeff of Indian Country is one of the most important votes in the state House. That's because of her penchant to caucus on some key votes with Republicans.

If the R's are successful in increasing their majority in the narrowly divided House in November Jeff could be the deciding vote on who would be Speaker of the chamber--its most powerful position. If she gave her vote to the GOP, it could mean the end of Dem Speaker Kenny Martinez.

If the court rules that Jeff stays on the ballot, she will face two Dem primary challengers. The winner of the primary is heavily favored to win in November in the heavy D district.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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