Saturday, June 28, 2014

Autopsies, Lawsuits, and More, Oh My

James Boyd's estate, represented by his brother Andrew Jones and the Kennedy law firm, has brought suit (76 pg pdf) against the City of Albuquerque alleging battery and wrongful death -- among other things -- in Boyd's execution in the Sandia foohills and calling for a range of specific relief, including the establishment of "the James Matthew Boyd Emergency Outreach Team to enable a team of three trained health care professionals to respond to crisis involving individuals experiencing homelessness and mental health emergencies in the City of Albuquerque."

The allegations of what was done to Boyd by the police that clear, cold day in March are horrifying. They are no less horrifying than the autopsy report that was released a couple of weeks ago, detailing the wounds Boyd suffered when he was shot by officers, and when a dog was unleashed on him and he was hit by several bean bag rounds at close range after he'd been mortally wounded by police gunfire and he was on the ground, paralyzed from those wounds.

The autopsy clinically describes entrance and exit wounds, abrasions, amputations and other surgeries and finally his death. The lawsuit, on the other hand, deals far more with the people involved, and the failed institutions of the City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Police Department that let this incident spiral out of control, with -- apparently -- no clear leadership or plan of action, despite 43 officers dispatched to the scene.

It was a classic clusterfuck -- this time, like many other times with regard to the APD -- leading to the unfortunate and completely unnecessary death of a man who,  according to the reports I've heard and read, and despite his mental illness, wanted nothing more or other than to be left alone in a place he loved.

These 43 officers couldn't do that. Oh, no. That would be allowing non-compliance, and in modern police culture, non-compliance can be a death sentence.

As it was for Mr. Boyd that day.

Interestingly, the Archbishop of the Santa Fe Diocese, Michael Sheehan, has recently announced that he came to the realization that the Albuquerque Police Department needed "drastic reforms" after the shooting death of Christopher Torres in 2011, but he hasn't spoken out until now. Discretion being the better part of valor? Who can say? The Archbishop has submitted his resignation to the Pope, effective when he reaches 75 years old next month, and that may be a reason why he is speaking out now, before the Pope replaces him...

Christopher Torres was also a diagnosed schizophrenic, as was James Boyd.

Archbishop Sheehan's voice is a powerful one in heavily Catholic New Mexico, and his words in this instance are unsparing.

APD needs "drastic reform."

Appended to the Boyd lawsuit is the scathing DoJ report (46 pg pdf) released in April which found and detailed numerous instances of APD's culture of violence and compliance, and a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing.

The DoJ report notes numerous instances of APD's use of inappropriate force on the mentally ill, including lethal force. The report was prepared before the Boyd execution and released within weeks afterwards, in part, it seems, due to public pressure.

Recently, the Chief Administrative Officer of the City of Albuquerque -- a former city attorney and former State Corrections Director -- remarked that he believed the majority of Albuquerque's residents "trust" the police. A poll was released that day or the day before that starkly indicated otherwise. Indeed, "trust" in the police in Albuquerque has taken a precipitous nosedive since 2011, falling to 33%. Hardly the majority Mr. Perry claims.

But then, in his mind, that 33% probably is a majority, and overwhelming majority, of the people who matter. 

Indeed, this is all about the people who matter -- and people who don't.

The people who don't -- like James Boyd, or even Christopher Torres -- are fair game. Much like the dogs that are routinely shot and killed by police all over the country when they are found to be inconvenient or threatening.

They are disposed of without another thought.

Mentally ill? Children in the way? Oh well!

They don't matter to police forces and the institutions of power in this country. That's the problem it seems to me.

Only certain people matter, and only they are privileged to be counted as the "majority."

The relief called for in the James Boyd lawsuit would provide a range of interventions in future cases of police confrontations with mentally ill and homeless individuals. The relief called for would even provide alternatives to police confrontations. It would provide extensive training in de-escalation techniques as well. Use of force would be strictly controlled. Police accountability would be required and enforced.

The point, of course, is that nothing like what happened to Mr. Boyd would happen again, but we know all too well that what happened to Mr. Boyd has already happened again and it will continue to happen until and unless the APD and the city administration is reformed top to bottom.

The Boyd lawsuit may be the necessary catalyst to change, but that remains to be seen. The rate of killing by APD increased after the release of the DoJ report, almost as if the institution of the APD was responding to the report with defiance and with further bloodshed. But there hasn't been a killing by APD in over a month, and it may be that word finally went out to the field that a cease fire was advisable. If not a complete halt to the killing, at least ratchet it back a bit. 'Mkay?

It's bad PR under the circumstances to keep killing at the same or an even higher rate.

Bad PR is bad for business. Can't have that. Nosirree.

I'd like to think that progress of some sort is being made in the face of implacable institutional inertia, but the evidence is not yet clear.

If the cease-fire holds, maybe...

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