Wednesday, October 12, 2016

It's not about victory, it's about justice...

The trial of Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy, acknowledged killers of homeless, schizophrenic camper James Boyd in the Sandia Mountain Foothills of Albuquerque, ended in a hung jury yesterday. Whether they will be retried depends on the wishes and interests of the incoming DA who won't be installed until January.

Their mug shots -- Keith Sandy,  L, Dominique Perez, R
Charming duo, aren't they? Actually they were, I won't lie about it. When they took the stand in their own defense, they came across as a couple of choirboys, no pun intended, who would never hurt a fly in anger or intentional malice. They were (wait for it)


when they shot and killed James Boyd that chilly afternoon March 16, 2014, setting off a roiling series of protests and demands for police reform in Albuquerque, including an end to the killing spree APD had been on for years. I played a very minor supporting role in the efforts to bring some kind of accountability to the police department and an end to the killing, and I reported some of it here. My involvement in these efforts over the years, in both Albuquerque and Sacramento has caused some strain in my household because Ms Ché, a retired court official and the granddaughter of a sheriff's deputy, strongly supports the police; I, on the other hand, am the son and grandson of attorneys, and my uncle was charged with murder in the death of his wife -- in a highly political trial that ended first in a hung jury, then in acquittal.

So we have a disagreement about these things, Ms. Ché and I. While she respects my point of view and has actually been very supportive in my efforts, she rather vehemently disagrees with me. To her credit, she does not denounce those I've worked with to bring accountability and an end to police violence. But she does see these incidents through the prism of her own experience in court, and through the eyes of the police officers she's worked with and come to know very well. I've known some of her police pals, and for the most part have found them to be fine, upstanding gentlemen -- who wouldn't hurt a fly out of anger or intentional malice. If they ever engaged in violent policing or use of lethal force (so far as I know, none of them did), they would only be doing their jobs.

And this is the problem of violent policing in a nutshell. When it happens -- and statistics suggest it happens much less often than it once did -- it is almost always regarded by departments, officials, and the public as "just doing their jobs." In other words, it is what officers are expected and required to do under the circumstances.

Prosecutor Randi McGinn asked after the mistrial was declared yesterday whether this was the kind of policing the people of Albuquerque wanted, whether "shoot first" anticipating that someone might be a threat was the right and proper way to approach people like Boyd who was clearly in another world but who was not objectively a threat to officers, or should there be another way for police as representatives of the community, to approach people like Boyd.

In a way, she's back in the past, because the APD policies in these matters have changed radically since the Boyd shooting. In fact, the whole approach to his minor offense of camping in the mountains and his insistence on self defense with folding knives would be significantly different by APD and support staff than it was on the day he was killed.

Crisis intervention would be allowed to continue until there was a successful resolution. The ROP (Repeat Offender Project) team that Keith Sandy was part of has been disbanded. If SWAT (Perez was a SWAT officer) had been called at all (not necessarily) they would not have been obvious nor would they necessarily have been setting snipers ready to kill at a moment's notice. The K-9 officer whose actions helped precipitate the killing might not have been there at all.

And so on. Rather than setting up to kill this man, APD would be doing everything possible to preserve his life. That would be their jobs.

That is a radical change, and that is part of the change we were after.

Three of the jurors believed Sandy and Perez were guilty of 2nd degree murder, 9 voted to acquit. 

The jury told the judge that they were hopelessly deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial. 

The matter goes back to the DA's office. Randi McGinn, the prosecutor, was a special appointee, not the DA. The DA, Kari Brandenburg, recused herself when she was accused of conflicts in this case, and she appointed McGinn to conduct the prosecution. Brandenburg chose not to run again for DA this year so she will be replaced by Raul Torrez in January. Whether he will attempt to retry these ex-officers is anyone's guess, but I suspect he won't, partly based on the fact that APD has undertaken significant reforms since Boyd's killing, and they are currently under a DoJ consent decree to address their issues of unconstitutional policing and other failings -- including one of the worst killing sprees of any police department in the country (based on population.)

McGinn said it's up to the community to decide whether they want police training to emphasize "anticipatory" killing (ie: neutralizing a potential threat) or focus more on preserving the life of even a suspect like Boyd. I think that conversation has already been had. It's not subject to a vote. The community came out strongly in favor of doing everything possible to preserve a life, including that of Mr. Boyd. Thus policies that led to Boyd's death -- and the deaths of many others prior to and briefly after Boyd's killing -- have been changed significantly. Albuquerque Police Department now kills very few individuals -- three this year so far, compared to more than a dozen per year in the past -- and they deploy crisis intervention much more often than in the past.

The problem of police killing in Albuquerque and the rest of New Mexico has not gone away, however. While APD doesn't kill the way it used to, other agencies, particularly US Marshal, Bernalillo County Sheriffs, and New Mexico State Police continue to kill in a pattern that follows prior "force protection" models rather than "sanctity of life" models. They never had as high a rate of killing as APD, so it didn't seem like they were as trigger happy as they are. But now that APD has taken a very different approach to these matters, the other law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction in Albuquerque who haven't changed their approach seem to be much more violent and lethal -- though their actual rate of killing is probably not any higher than it was before APD changed its ways. 

It's a never ending challenge to maintain both accountability by police forces and to reduce their use of violence and lethal force. Police unions resist strenuously any effort that would interfere with officers' use of force or require accountability by police. In some cases -- Seattle and Oakland come to mind -- they refuse to abide by rules of conduct they don't agree with. This is in effect a mutinous action that should lead to discipline or dismissal, but until recently, it hasn't. APD vocally resisted reforms, but in the end accommodated them fairly well for which they are to be congratulated. 

I've pointed out the drop in killing by APD in several internet fora, only to be met by skepticism because it hasn't been reported in major online  media. True enough. It hasn't even been reported locally. But it's true, as any review of the data (as collated by Killed by Police and the Guardian) will demonstrate. But that's work, and few want to bother with it if they don't have to.

Meanwhile, the trial of Sandy and Perez did not end with an acquittal, which is what I thought it would. There may or may not be a new trial, but if there isn't one, it will not mean that these men were acquitted of murder, only that the charges were dismissed.

I can only hope that the reforms instituted by APD will continue in force and that violent policing will be curbed nationwide.

But it's a long and exhausting struggle. I'm old and ill, and I'm not at all sure how much more I can do. Time for the young to step up...

No comments:

Post a Comment