No U.S. Charges in NM Police Shooting of Homeless Man

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Prosecutors said yesterday that no federal charges will be brought against the two Albuquerque police officers who fatally shot a mentally ill, homeless man more than three years ago, the Albuquerque Journal reports. The U.S. Attorney’s office said career prosecutors determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that officer Dominique Perez and now-retired Detective Keith Sandy violated federal law when they fatally shot James Boyd in 2014. The two men were charged with murder in state court but the case ended in a mistrial last October. Shannon Kennedy, an attorney for the Boyd family, said U.S. Justice Department lawyers “gave a very astute legal analysis … of the difficulty of a federal criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers.”

To prove charges against an officer for an on-duty shooting, prosecutors must be able to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer “willfully” deprived an individual of a constitutional right. That high burden means there must be proof an officer knew his or her actions were unlawful, but did them anyway. “The evidence, when viewed as whole, indicates that the officers fired only after reasonably perceiving that Boyd posed a serious threat of physical harm to a fellow officer,” said the U.S. Attorney’s office. “At the time of the shooting, Boyd was brandishing two knives and was in close proximity to a canine handler.” The city of Albuquerque settled a lawsuit brought by Boyd’s family for $5 million.

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