New Mexico Police Under Fire After Video Shows Officers Shooting Homeless Man In The Back

screen_shot_2014-03-25_at_00.03.31.siThe Albuquerque police have long been criticized for a high rate of shootings and the increasing militarization of their operations. This month, many have joined in that criticism after the release of a videotape of police shooting a homeless camper, James Boyd, in the foothills outside of the city.

Boyd, 38, has a history of mental illness with episodes of violence. Three officers approached him on March 16th about camping in an unauthorized area. After they woke him, they had a three-hour standoff and Boyd is heard saying that he was “going to walk” with them. However, he then gathers his things and one officer is heard yelling “Do it”. A flash-bang device then exploded at his feet, causing Boyd to drop his bags. The police released a German Shepard and Boyd appears to take something out of this pocket that might be a knife. However, he seems to be looking straight at the dog and he may have been trying to protect himself from the dog. Then he turns away from the officers. He is then shot repeatedly in the back by two different officers. A dog is then released again to be sure that he is not moving. He was later pronounced dead.

I have watched the video below and I fail to see the need for lethal force, though the department cleared all of the officers as justified in the shooting. The release of the dog seems to me the cause for his reaction. Moreover, he was a good distance away when they shoot him with a dog in between them and the suspect. Yet, Police Chief Gorden Eden has insisted that the helmet video below shows that his officers were in danger and had to fire on a “direct threat.” In this message to the public on the police website, Eden proclaims “We are proud of the way in which we interact with the community in our continuing collaborative problem solving efforts.” This is not a particularly good example of problem solving for most of us who watch the video.

Since 2010, the Albuquerque Police Department has been involved in 37 shootings — resulting in 23 deaths. Critics has said that the city police have shot more people than the NYPD during the same period did in New York despite the fact that New York is 16 times larger than Albuquerque.

I think if it commendable that police waited so long in speaking with Boyd who does have a violent history. It is that patience that makes the ultimate throwing of the flash grenade and the shooting so odd. There seems to be a rapid escalation of force by the police that is not explained by what we are seeing on the videotape. After all, this is a case of someone sleeping in a non-camping area — not the execution of an arrest warrant for a violent offender or some other high-risk operation. Clearly, there is always a risk in approaching a homeless person with both mental illness and prior violence. However, I do not see how the shooting is justified based on this videotape alone.

What do you think?

95 thoughts on “New Mexico Police Under Fire After Video Shows Officers Shooting Homeless Man In The Back”

  1. You have a solitary, reclusive, socially/mentally impaired man who is being arrested for illegal camping. Ultimately, he is killed, by overwhelming force. I’m pretty sure this indicates a methodological problem. Police departments are compensated well, I think we can expect more tools from their toolbox when it comes to keeping the peace with our fellow citizens.

  2. to Darren Smith,

    Police told the man to get on the ground. He was aimed downhill on a steep incline. It would be difficult to get face down on a steep downhill incline, so he turns in possibly an attempt to get on the ground on a uphill position and as he turns away from the police he is shot in the back. The shots ring out after he turns. Even if his turn was to run away uphill the dog could have taken him down in a few seconds. Maybe you should look at the video to validate what I said instead of writing how the poor shoot happy police were in mortal fear of a fat slow moving man.

  3. It looks like the officers did what they had to do. However, they were remarkably inept in doing so. The dog did not need to be released, at all. The dog handler and whoever gave the order to release the dog should be sent back for training.

    If the shots fired were bean bags, there was no sign of blood, then why not. The man had two knives. He was unstable. Bean bag him. The shot into his back, a white sweatshirt. Where is the blood.

    Turley, there are more important things to do. Concentrate on the dismal state of American democracy in our oligarchical political system.

  4. Steve:

    That was not the only factor involved in this incident. And, you do not use non-lethal take down in a deadly force threat, especially given the totallity of the circumstances that I described.

    Also, this incident would not be prosecuted as a murder even if the shooting was held not to be justified.

    We just disagree.

    1. Darren,

      The lethal rounds were fired after the suspect turned his back—having a badge and gun doesn’t legalize what to a layman like myself was simply murder. That man was gunned down almost as if it was target practice on a live subject.

      These officers were acting as if they were wannabe soldiers in an elite fighting force. In all likelihood they would never pass the psychological or physical standards for such units so they do the next best thing: join a PD and act out their fantasies on weak, poorly trained and usually unarmed civilians.

      If not for the helmet camera we would be left with the Police Chief’s statement: this was a justified killing by police officers being attacked by a heavily armed vicious killer with a past criminal life.

      This ruthless police behavior will never stop until individual officers, departments and cities are held accountable, usually with civil lawsuits that contain punitive damages with a lot of zeros.

  5. Darren:

    The 21 foot rule is typical cop pseudo science used to justify all sorts of excessive force.

    The 21 foot rule applies if your gun is holstered, not when your gun is at the ready (several long guns with commensurately more stopping power were shouldered, making your comment even less valid).

    Also the 21 foot rule applies to one-on-one scenario, not one knife fighter facing many alert gunmen.

    Given the number of cops able to deploy Tasers and beanbag shotguns while leaving several gunmen to cover, a non-lethal takedown was an option.

    I stick with my original statement – this was murder.

  6. Wayne:

    A person coming at you with a knife is dangerous regardless of the footing below and guessing what can happen is potentially lethal. I am a retired LEO so I have some experience on the matter.

    Here is a situation I had happen to me many years ago.

    I had an incident where two men were heatedly arguing with each other I tried to separate the two and was between them. One of them walked away then pulled out a kitchen knife and rushed me and the other man. I had very little time to react and he was probably fifteen feet away when he then decided to rush us. He had the knife right out in front of him and he came at me. I tried to grab his hand with both of mine and the blade went straight between my ring and middle fingers and cut into my hand. I wrestled with him to get him to release it and it wasn’t until I banged his hand half a dozen times into a column next to us before he let go. If he had a knife in his other hand he could have easily horked me with it and I would have been in a world of hurt. Fortunately the blade hit one of the bones between my fingers and stopped so I wasn’t badly injured.

    I know you mean well but there is a little more to the situation with this homeless man than might be realized.

    1. Darren,

      I’m sorry you got injured on the job and in all seriousness I do appreciate your service. This may come as a surprise to you but our son is currently a LEO in California so I do have a sincere respect for police officers. However, that respect is being diluted with all the inappropriate police behavior that I have been made aware of this past decade—or probably since 9/11. Our police departments are taking on the personification of military units that is very troubling to me.

      I’m an ex Army Sgt who has had his fair share of encounters with bayonets along with regular knife fights like you mentioned. I have never seen any knife fight where one of the assailants had a knife in each hand—that just doesn’t happen as one needs a free hand for stabilization in a fight. A slip and fall with a knife in each hand would usually be fatal as one needs the capability to quickly get up. Yes, one can fight with a weapon in each hand but that is not a normal situation.

      In this case we had an individual on top of a hill, not on a smooth dry level surface, with a knife in each hand telling me he is not experienced in hand to hand combat. This was not a scene from a ninja movie.

      Given the totality of the situation, these officers were not in any serious threat from this individual. They clearly had the tactical advantage, were well armed, well equipped, had lethal and non-lethal capability, the suspect was in clear sight and was not likely to surprise them, there were neither hostages nor innocent bystanders in the way. Apparently the officers had been in direct contact with this suspect for several hours, which in itself is surprising. They had ample time for tactical maneuvering and with any amount of trained supervision this encounter should have ended promptly without anyone being killed.

      The flash bang with a simultaneous release of the K9, and a well placed bean bag, would have resulted in an incapacitated suspect.

  7. Still no justice for John Wrana. this dates back to last summer when police fired shotgun beanbags into the torso of this 95 year old man. Killed him.

  8. Here is my analysis on what the video presents:

    At 0:07 the man states to the officers “I have a right to kill you.”
    0:16 he refers to someone getting hurt again. I don’t know what this refers to but considering a three hour standoff it may be someone got injured in this incident before
    0:31 he says “I’m worry about safety I’m not a fucking murderer”
    0:34 He says twice “I’m going to harm you”
    3:36 Flash Bang is deployed, officers begin to rush in to take him down, ordering him to get down.
    03:37 the man draws out a knife with his right hand, moves his other hand behind his back. He then has another knife in his hand. That he has a knife in both hands is confirmed after they make contact.
    0:38 shooting takes place.
    The suspect did not respond to commands

    Here after a three hour standoff they attempt further to take him into custody. The officers try to coax him out. But a suspect in this manner needs to be taken down physically and put to the ground due to weapons displayed. The reason for this is simply walking up to him and handcuffing him like a regular arrest is inherently dangerous to everyone as he could readily draw a knife or other weapon as he was show to do.

    After the threats made by the man saying he had a right to kill the officers it is too dangerous to allow him to walk up casually as given the past of the situation there was a risk. The officers deployed the flash bang to disrupt the man so that he could be taken into custody quickly. After the officers move in the man drops his bags and draws a knife At that point the officers, especially the K-9 handler are too close for safety. The man then makes a dangerous move by reaching behind his back. Training and procedure is that this represents a likelihood of going for another weapon.

    For at least the last twenty years, it has been common training and studies have shown that a person within twenty one feet, armed with a knife is presents a high probability a suspect will be able to attack an officer with success. In this situation the officers could not retreat out of there without the strong likelihood of falling down the rocky slope and the suspect would have a great advantage.

    The use of a Taser or bean bag round is not indicated for a person displaying the use of a deadly weapon due to the strong and fatal situation where it might not work. Procedure is to not use these in deadly force situations due to inherent risk to officers.

    Had the officers chose to take down a man, who has made threats to kill and swinging a knife, and armed with one in each hand is too risky. The fact also of him turning is a sign of possibly drawing another weapon, possibly a firearm.

    Also, removing all the previous circumstances if an officer in another situation is faced with an offender within that is that close, armed with two knives and making threats to kill the officer in that situation would be justified in discharging a firearm to protect his or her life.

    The compounding of all this information is compelling enough to assume that the risk to the officers was grave and immediate.

    Based on the information presented my opinion is the use of force was justified.

    The public has generally a misconception about offenders being armed with knives. A knife at close distance is just as lethal as a firearm is.

    On an aside, there were those commentators in the news who thought the use of the K-9 and the bean bag were unjustified when the suspect went down. To the contrary the suspect presented continuing risk until he was cuffed. The officers told him to drop the knives he, for whatever reason did not. The K-9 and bean bags were to get the suspect to release the knives. The danger to the officers here is if they attempt to cuff the offender without taking the knives out of his hand is that he could suddenly lurch forward and stab one of the officers. But at some point they had to cover him and then stepped on one hand, which is procedure, or kick it away. The other hand was trapped next to the rock and the knife could be then taken away.

    While the number of shootings by the PD in the past few years certainly is cause for investigation, and this shooting as is with others, it is not always applicable to post the events of the past to the situation the officers faced here. It can apply in many cases but I don’t see it here given the circumstances.

    The FBI investigation will be extensive and complete and should be done regardless.

    1. Darren,

      “In this situation the officers could not retreat out of there without the strong likelihood of falling down the rocky slope and the suspect would have a great advantage.” You misunderstand the situation here: a man with a knife in each hand running downhill is the one at a tactical disadvantage. He would quickly lose his balance and be the one tumbling down the hill.

      “The use of a Taser or bean bag round is not indicated for a person displaying the use of a deadly weapon due to the strong and fatal situation where it might not work. Procedure is to not use these in deadly force situations due to inherent risk to officers. So using the non-lethal flash bang was ok but heaven forbid they use a bean bag or taser after this overweight man frightened by a police dog withdraws a knife for his own self protection. The K9 officer was inept, he had a dog between himself and the suspect, he was not in any imminent danger. If this suspect charged the K9 handler he would have gone ass over tea-kettle all the way down the hill—the idea that he could charge the officers and inflict injury is preposterous. If you think not, then stand on top of a similar hill, put something in both hands and then charge down the hill as if you were going to attack someone. When you are out of the hospital let me know how the experiment went.

    2. Darren, I hear different words than you seem to hear. It is somewhat muffled, so I could be wrong. I hear, “Don’t worry about safety; I’m not a murderer” and “I’m not going to harm you.” Nevertheless, he was clearly resisting arrest. This is what created the dilemma for the officers. Their job was to take him under arrest.

      The homeless often are rule breakers, especially mentally ill ones. This man’s position was that he was free, he was not a murderer, he would walk out with the police and not harm them, but if they tried to take him under arrest, my interpretation would be that he would have a right to defend himself and harm the police. The bottom line is that he did not recognize their authority to interfere with his freedom to be left alone.

      What I think you overlook the most in this case is that the police caused the man to arm himself. He was carrying his bags with plans to walk out with the officers. The flash bomb and release of the dog was an attack on this man. It caused him to go into defensive mode. He armed himself in order to kill the dog that was charging him. I would not be surprised if the officer who shot first loved the dog and was protecting the dog. Is it really right to trade the life of a man for the life of a dog?

      I can see nothing but abusive authority here. Here is a man who doesn’t understand the rationality of not allowing him to bunk in wide open space which interferes with nobody. He does not live according to the rules of society. He has decided to separate himself from the rules of civilization. Does that attitude really deserve death?

      The funny thing is that if this were a wild animal, like a bear, the officers would have just come in with tranquilizer guns and subdued the bear that way. Why is this not part of training in how to deal with the mentally ill? In a sense, this man is acting similar to a wild animal which has no ability to compromise and respond to orders.

      1. David,
        Never thought of that but you raise a valid point. If this was a wild animal then a couple of rangers with tranquilizer guns would have ended this within a few minutes. Yes, the training of our police officers needs immediate attention: they don’t appear to de-escalate encounters, instead they seem inexperienced in dealing with human emotions. That coupled with their apparent huge egos often results in a violent conclusion.

  9. I have use primarily he same wording previously in the comment section and it again is appropriate: GESTAPOISM and militarization of law enforcement. These thugs (police) perpetrating criminal action (unjustified murder) will continue to escalate. I am not sure how to reign it in.

  10. The direct threat is the Albuquerque police themselves. Disgusting. People should be losing jobs and going to jail for murder.

    1. ” Disgusting. People should be losing jobs and going to jail for murder.”

      Disgusting, maybe. But it looks to me like the real problem is with department training and rules of engagement.

      No officer is going to do the right thing if the training unit tells him it is OK to shoot.

      The solution to this problem starts with LE management and works its way through official policy, tactics, and training.

      Too little notice is taken of the fact that LE management says this shooting is justified. That is the root of the problem. This kind of situation will never change till management clearly states the shooting is not in accordance with policy, or rules of engagement, that officers will be disciplined, and that information is being forwarded to prosecutors.

  11. Completely unjustified and when first viewed I was stunned that something like this could happen in our country. The police used bean bags from a shot-gun AFTER he had already been killed, why not use this non-lethal force first? They also had another non-lethal option on four legs. With zero legal training, this appears to be second degree murder as there was no imminent threat to the officer’s lives.

    The dog and its handler need extensive training, the way this dog was deployed and handled is embarrassing—both the dog and the handler were very tentative and didn’t know what to do. I understand not wanting the dog injured but whenever a dog is used to subdue a suspect the risk to the dog is always present. Either use the dog or leave him in the patrol car until he will be needed.

    I hear officers say that at the end of the day they want to come home safely. However, it is their responsibility is to make sure ‘we’ all come home safely.

  12. When a certain police department achieves a reputation for shooting large numbers of people compared to police departments in other cities, it makes sense to question whether there may be something wrong in that department’s policies, training and culture. Was there some past occurrence where an officer died as a result of not being aggressive enough? Is there a “mad dog” element among the local criminals that has conditioned police to shoot first and ask questions later? Does the department recruit its members from certain types of military backgrounds? It’s time for Albuquerque to put this department under a magnifying glass to find out what’s going on there.

  13. How many people who watched this video have concluded that the police are the enemy?

    Seems that we might be entering a cycle of violence begetting violence.

  14. I had thought the legal justification for the use of lethal force was imminent
    threat of death or maiming.

    Considering the distance between the officers and the subject I see no imminent threat. On the contrary, despite the possession of knives, what I see is cooperation by the subject. Where, exactly, is the threat.

    I would argue this is a case where lethal force is clearly not justified. But the problem goes beyond the judgment of individual officers and seems related to the rules of engagement the department uses in cases like this.

    This is a situation where the community through its elected leaders has to order change by LE management, the training unit and the officers.

  15. This makes me sick. I do not see a threat that deserved death in the least. This was a criminal act by a bunch of thugs that deserve long, very long, prison sentences.

  16. He did not follow orders to get on the ground. Ah, ha! Disobedience! He has become dangerous. He turns, he has taken action, he must be about to do something more dangerous than mere disobedience to heavily armed men. And so I shoot in preemptive self-defense. — mind-reading the first shooter

    Do they come like that or are they trained.

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