Albuquerque police oversight panel members on Tuesday demanded an independent investigation into the fatal police shooting of a homeless man as video footage from the altercation brought further condemnation from across the state.
Speaking a day after Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry called video of the shooting “horrific,” Police Oversight Task Force members said a new investigation was needed to examine the death of James Boyd. Members said they wanted an independent review of Albuquerque police and the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Authorities said Boyd, 38, died after officers fired stun guns, bean bags and six live rounds on March 16. Police said Boyd had threatened to kill officers and held onto knives as an unarmed K-9 officer approached him.
A helmet camera video showed Boyd gathering his belongings then turning away right before officers fired following a long standoff where Boyd claimed he was a federal government agent.
The shooting came as the Albuquerque Police Department is the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation involving the use of force and three dozen officer shootings — 22 fatal — since 2010.
But most of the shootings weren’t caught on video because the department didn’t start requiring officers to wear lapel cameras until May 2012.
Videos of other police shootings have generated small protests, but the latest video footage has drawn fire from local and state elected officials and various civil rights groups. A planned protest late Tuesday at Albuquerque Civic Plaza is expected to draw residents from around the city and Santa Fe.
“I think the helmet cam has a lot to do with it,” said Hans Erickson, vice chair of the task force. “It’s so important for us to have as much information on these kinds of shootings as we can.”
Erickson said the footage allows the public to see what happened without having to rely solely on accounts of police and witnesses.
The shooting even gained the attention of New Mexico Senate Democrats, who said Albuquerque police officers needed better training.
“It’s shameful that we are not better preparing these officers to handle all situations that come their way,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen. “Unfortunately, it is at the expense of precious lives.”
Police said the Boyd shooting is being investigated by five outside agencies. Berry announced Monday he has asked Las Cruces police to join the investigation and told Justice Department officials they were free to review any files on Boyd’s death.
“The problem is, yes, we need an independent investigation in this incident. But there have been over 20 other incidents,” said Alan Wagman, a member of the task force and a criminal defense attorney.
The Police Oversight Task Force was created by the Albuquerque City Council to help review the police oversight process. Their list of recommendations, including allowing a commission to give policy recommendations directly to the police chief, is scheduled to go before city councilors, said chair Andrew Lipman.
A day after hundreds of people clashed with Albuquerque riot officers over police shootings, Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday that she understands the public’s frustration but called on protesters to remain calm while federal officials investigate.
At least one officer was injured and six people arrested as the protesters marched back and forth between downtown and the University of New Mexico for 10 hours Sunday, blocking traffic, trying to topple street signs and calling for the police chief and other city officials to resign. It’s unclear if any protesters were hurt.
Gas canisters were thrown outside police headquarters, and Mayor Richard Berry said Sunday that at one point protesters trapped police in a vehicle and tried to break its windows.
Martinez said she watched the protests on television Sunday.
“Albuquerque is going through a tough time, and they’ll figure it out through the investigation,” the governor said. “We want that to be thorough. We want confidence in the investigation, but I just don’t want to see anyone harmed.”
This protest and another last week were in response to the 37 shootings Albuquerque police have been involved in since 2010, 23 of them fatal. The outrage bubbled over recently with the release of a video showing officers fatally shooting 38-year-old James Boyd, a homeless camper, as he appeared to be preparing to surrender on March 16. Ten days later, officers killed another man after they say he shot at them.
On Friday, the FBI confirmed it had opened a criminal investigation into the Boyd shooting. And the U.S. Justice Department has been investigating the Police Department for more than a year, looking into complaints of civil rights violations and allegations of excessive use of force.
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