ALBUQUERQUE — The city of Albuquerque has agreed to pay $5 million to the family of a homeless man who was fatally shot last year by Albuquerque officers in a case that drew national attention, led to massive protests in the city and helped fuel major reforms within a police force that had been under federal scrutiny for its use of excessive force, including more than two dozen fatal shootings in four years.
Two officers involved in the shooting face rare charges of second-degree murder.
The case also has been cited in calls across the nation to better train police on how to respond to incidents involving people with mental illness. James Boyd, who was 38 when officers killed him during an hours-long standoff in March 2014 in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, where he was camping illegally, had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
Friends and family told The New Mexican last year that Boyd had spent years trying to dodge trouble but instead was repeatedly jailed and confined in the state mental hospital. The rugged patch of foothills where he was killed by police was the one place where Boyd found peace, they said.
The settlement that Boyd's relatives reached with the city was announced Friday by an attorney representing the family, who had filed a lawsuit over his death in June 2014. Albuquerque’s chief administrative officer confirmed the lawsuit’s settlement, but there was no immediate comment from city officials on the case.
At the time of Boyd's death, police said officers had fired on him because he had pulled out knives and threatened to kill them. The decision to fire was made only after officers had fired stun guns and bean bags, and had tried to subdue Boyd with a K-9, they said.
But video of the incident from an officer's helmet camera, viewed by tens of thousands of people on YouTube when it was released days after the shooting, appears to show police suddeningly firing on Boyd as he is surrendering.
An autopsy later revealed he had been shot three times, once in the back, and was covered in cuts, scrapes and bites from the police dog. Additional controversy emerged in the case after one officer involved in the shooting was accused of having referred to Boyd as a "lunatic" and saying he planned to shoot the man long before the situation escalated into violence.
That now-retired officer, Keith Sandy, is one of two men charged with second-degree murder in the case. The other is Dominique Perez. A special prosecutor announced the charges last month. Both men have denied any wrongdoing, but each could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
The shooting sparked angry demonstrations around Albuquerque last year, with protesters calling for reform of the Albuquerque Police Department. Between 2010 and 2014, there had been dozens of police shootings, 27 of them fatal. Even Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry called Boyd's death a "game changer."
But even before Boyd’s death, the U.S. Justice Department had been investigating the department over allegations of excessive force. Federal officials harshly criticized the department but reached an agreement with the city to improve training and dismantle troubled units.
Shannon Kennedy, an attorney for Boyd's family, said in a statement that “the family sought justice to ensure that what happened to Mr. Boyd never happens to anyone else, and they believe the city is taking necessary steps to ensure officers are provided adequate training, supervision and support and that Mr. Boyd’s death changes policing for the better in Albuquerque.”
Information from The New Mexican was used in this report.