Albuquerque, NM (TFC) –Lawyers for two Albuquerque police officers are citing the failure of non-lethal weapons as a legitimate defense in the murder of a homeless man camping in the mountains outside the city. In January, the Albuquerque District Attorney charged Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy with “open murder” in the death of James Boyd, as the DA is still unsure of which degree of murder to assess. The incident went viral and sparked massive protests against the Albuquerque Police Department because of the overwhelming use of force by members of the department. Now that they are facing trial, the officers are blaming the results of the day on the failure of equipment discontinued by the manufacturer.
Boyd, as many of you will remember, was camping outside of Albuquerque when officers approached him and asked him to leave. As he was gathering his belongings, the officers threw flash bang grenades at him, and released an APD German Shepard to subdue him. As you can see in the video, Boyd says, “I’m not going to get stupid,” and begins complying with the officers. As he puts his hands up and begins to kneel on the ground, officers fire at him, claiming he had a knife in his hand. After firing multiple shots at him, they shoot him with the less lethal bean bag rounds, when he was already motionless on the ground. Boyd later died at the hospital after multiple surgeries.
Both attorneys made statements when the charges were filed in January. Sandy’s attorney, Sam Bregman, claimed the charges are unjustified and that Sandy:
had not only the right, but the duty to defend a fellow officer from a mentally unstable, violent man wielding two knives. Keith did nothing wrong. To the contrary, he followed his training and probably saved his fellow officer’s life.
Luis Robles, Perez’s attorney, pointed to the judgement calls police officers make during critical moments. He said to local media:
This is truly a shame. Throughout his career, Officer Perez has been called upon to make life-altering decisions while protecting Albuquerque citizens and his fellow officers. And having made one of those decisions, Officer Perez now faces an open count of murder. Regardless, I am confident that the facts will vindicate Officer Perez’s actions in this case.
Two months later, the lawyers have switched positions. In spite of video evidence of the events in question, the defense attorneys for Perez and Sandy have laid out arguments placing the blame on theTaser Corporation. They claim that the X12 Shotgun manufactured by Taser and fired by a third officer failed. This less lethal equipment, however, had been discontinued by Taser and was no longer under warranty. Furthermore, the Albuquerque Police Department was aware of this fact. The X12 is a wireless delivery system for electronic shock. While Taser admits to lagging sales, the company also states its “great hopes” that a wireless delivery mechanism would be successful in the future, indicating the low reliability of the device.
The particular model in use that day in Albuquerque was also expired. Taser had warned all owners of Taser XREP systems, for which the X12 qualified, not to use the products after expiration. The warning came in September, 2013. Boyd was murdered just over a year ago, on March 16, 2014. The first defense of the attorneys requires that the People of New Mexico allow for an “ignorance of the law” defense, which is not a justification when an American is unaware that a law violation has occurred.
In a now infamous conversation between Officers Chris Ware and Keith Sandy recorded by official police cameras, the two discussed the Taser shotgun Sandy was readying for his march up the hillside to where Boyd was facing off with other officers. Sandy referred to Boyd as a “fucking lunatic,” then said he was going to “shoot him with a Taser shotgun here in a minute.” Ware showed surprise when Sandy admitted that he still had the expired and unbacked equipment.
A second defense stems from statements of Scott Weimerskirch, the APD K9 officer. Weimerskirch claims that the Taser units hit Rex, the K9 in the video, causing the animal to act in ways inconsistent with training. If this is the case, it is unclear whether or not Officer Rick Ingram, the APD officer,who according to officer testimony actually fired the Taser X12 shotgun, will face charges of assaulting a police officer or animal cruelty, if in fact the Taser mechanism did work, but struck the dog instead of Boyd. Nevertheless, the APD officers shot Boyd with lethal M4 rounds while he was turning his back, and then proceeded to shoot Boyd with beanbags while he was on the ground with multiple bullet holes in his back and arms.
Questions have been raised concerning the availability of less lethal means. Those means fail to be less lethal when the .223 rounds are used prior to the bean bags or even the expired Taser.
In the American legal system, it is the right for every defendant to receive a fair trial. However, when the evidence is overwhelmingly against the defendant, and the best defense is to blame the manufacturer of a product that the department knew to be no longer supported by the manufacturer, at some point the best defense, for the sake of the continuance of a civil society, is to accept wrong doing. There is no justice in blaming others, when the blame is squarely on your shoulders.