ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Attorneys for a retired Albuquerque police detective on trial in the on-duty killing of a homeless camper depicted him Wednesday as a well-trained, veteran officer who had been shot at by suspects but never fired himself until the shooting that resulted in charges against him.
The profile of 41-year-old Keith Sandy contrasted a special prosecutor’s vastly different take on his nearly two-decade law enforcement career with the New Mexico State Police and the Albuquerque Police Department that ended after he and ex-Officer Dominique Perez fatally shot James Boyd in March 2014.
Special prosecutor Randi McGinn said Sandy was eager to impress other officers in his elite but controversial unit — established to target violent career criminals — when he inserted himself into the hillside standoff with Boyd, who suffered from mental illness.
Sandy testified for four hours about his actions in the standoff and a comment he made before the shooting to another officer about how he was going to fire a stungun at Boyd, whom Sandy referred to as a “lunatic.”
“It was just a word I used,” Sandy testified. “I regret saying it deeply … I have not used the word since.”
The defense rested its case shortly afterward, setting the stage for closing arguments Thursday.
The final day of testimony included courtroom theatrics as Sandy’s defense attorney wielded two fake knives while standing on a roughly 4-foot platform in an attempt to show the danger he says the officers faced in dealing with Boyd at his campsite.
Defense attorney Sam Bregman says Sandy and Perez opened fire on Boyd to protect a K-9 handler who was near him.
The prosecutor also climbed a ladder to the top of the platform as she questioned Sandy about his decision to shoot Boyd, who she says had begun turning away from the detective. Her demonstration came after she attempted to recreate the scene of the standoff by positioning cardboard cutouts of Sandy, Perez and the K-9 handler in their tactical gear at different points in the courtroom.
Sandy was the first to fire at Boyd with two of his bullets striking the camper in each arm. Perez’s round struck Boyd in the back.
The special prosecutor faulted Sandy for being behind some flawed decisions that agitated Boyd — from interrupting negotiations between the camper and an officer trained in crisis intervention to rushing a failed plan to take him into custody with less-lethal force. Sandy denies the accusations.
McGinn questioned Sandy about how he was fired from the State Police over his involvement in a time card fraud scandal, and the year and a half he spent on the Repeat Offenders Project, an aggressive Albuquerque Police Department unit that was dismantled shortly after the shooting of Boyd under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.
The Justice Department had found Albuquerque police had engaged in a pattern of excessive force, especially in encounters with mentally ill people and others in crisis who could not comply with officers’ commands. The results of that investigation were released a month after Boyd’s death.
The encounter with Boyd began when a resident reported his illegal campsite several hundred feet behind an Albuqueque neighborhood. Two open-space officers responded with weapons drawn but not pointed at Boyd, and called for help after they tried to pat him down and the camper pulled knives.
Nearly 20 officers responded to the scene over the next several hours with rifles, handguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and smoke bombs.
Sandy responded to the standoff because a sergeant had requested a Taser shotgun, which the detective had.
Sandy arrived at the standoff at the same time as a State Police sergeant he knew. That sergeant’s dashcam video recorded Sandy’s comment calling Boyd “a lunatic.”
Perez was among the last to arrive after his SWAT sergeant asked him to respond. He had been celebrating his birthday at home with his family when he was asked to go to the standoff.
He drove to the campsite hearing other officers say over radio traffic that Boyd was threatening officers and that he also had a history of violence against police, including one instance in which he broke an officer’s nose.
A few minutes after Perez arrived on the hillside, he yelled for Sandy to detonate a flash-bang grenade, which went off near Boyd’s feet but not close enough to startle him so officers could take him into custody. Perez and Sandy opened fire seconds later.
“All the things that occurred that day happened in the blink of an eye — happened at the speed of light,” Perez has said.