A recently released video of Albuquerque police shooting a homeless man dead has drawn attention to the city’s officer-involved shootings, especially those involving the mentally ill.
Since 2010, the city’s police have shot 37 people, The New York Times reports. The New Mexico Public Defender Department estimates that 75% of those shot had a mental illness, even though nationally about half of those shot by police have mental health problems.
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has identified the man in the recently released video as 38-year-old James M. Boyd. The Albuquerque Journal reports dispatchers informed APD officers responding to the incident that Boyd was mentally incompetent and possibly had paranoid schizophrenia.
The disturbing video from March 16 shows officers aiming their weapons at Boyd, who was camping illegally. We later learn was holding knives, but he doesn’t appear to be threatening the officers.
At the beginning of the video, Boyd gathers his bags containing his belongings.
One officer then says “do it” while another throws a flash grenade that explodes as officers and a police dog charge him.
The man drops his bags and scuffles briefly with the police dog before turning his back as if to retreat, but he is immediately shot in the back.
Officers then restrain the mortally wounded man and the video reveals he has a small knife in each hand, although it is unclear from the video when he pulled the knives out.
In a press conference held shortly after the March 15 shooting, APD Chief of Police Gorden Eden said he believed the shooting was justified. According to his version of events, the man threatened APD officers with knives after they approached while he was sleeping at his illegal campsite.
Eden said officers were attempting to use non-lethal means when they threw the flash grenade. But the man pulled out two knives and threatened an officer handling the police dog, according to the police. “The officers then perceived a directed threat immediately to the canine handler who was trying to redirect the dog towards the suspect, when the shots were fired,” Eden said.
While Boyd’s actions in the video appear non-aggressive, Eden said he had not obeyed officers’ demands.
“The suspect did in fact make a decision not to follow the directions that were provided to him by the officers,” he said.
According to The Times, Boyd had a history of mental illness and may not have followed the officers’ directions because he believed he was a federal agent who shouldn’t be bossed around.
The APD has a history of allegedly using excessive force during confrontations with civilians, spurring the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an ongoing investigation into the matter in November 2012. Of the 37 people shot since 2010 more than 20 were killed, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
In 2013 a judge ruled that the 2010 fatal shooting of an Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder was not justified.
This week, an attorney announced he intends to file a class-action lawsuit against the APD over repeated shootings of people with mental health problems. The lawsuit would seek to guarantee additional training for officers to peacefully end confrontations with mentally ill people.
The video recently sparked a large demonstration in Albuquerque streets against recent APD shooting deaths, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Some community members have criticised the APD for making arrests and resorting to riot gear and tear gas during that 12-hour demonstration sparked by the shooting.
However, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and Eden said the police actions were an appropriate response to some protesters who behaved like a mob committing illegal acts.
APD Chief Eden started at his position February 27. He previously spent eight years serving as the U.S. marshal for New Mexico in the same Department of Justice still investigating the APD.
As the new ADP chief, Eden has vowed to begin improving the department before the investigation reaches its conclusion. He said his major priorities are community outreach, bolstering APD’s leadership structure and police retention.
Eden also hopes to increase the department’s manpower, which currently stands at 900 officers although he said there is funding for 1,100 officers.
You can watch a video of the controversial shooting here. Warning: It is difficult to watch.
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