New Mexico Officers Won’t Face Federal Charges in Killing of Mentally Ill Man

WASHINGTON — Two police officers in Albuquerque, N.M., will not face federal charges in the 2014 shooting death of James Boyd, a homeless man with paranoid schizophrenia, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

“After a careful and thorough review into the facts surrounding the shooting, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of the federal statute,” the United States attorney’s office in New Mexico said in a statement announcing the closing of an inquiry into possible criminal civil rights violations.

The statement added, “The evidence, when viewed as a whole, indicates that the officers fired only after reasonably perceiving that Boyd posed a serious threat of physical harm to a fellow officer.”

The two officers, Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, encountered Mr. Boyd on March 16, 2014, in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains outside the city, where Mr. Boyd had been camping illegally. After the officers approached him, releasing a sound grenade and a police dog, Mr. Boyd produced two pocket knives, one in each hand, as seen in body-camera footage released by the police.

“The officers were aware of Boyd’s violent criminal history, mental health issues, and his repeated threats to kill officers during the standoff,” the Justice Department said, concluding that their deadly use of force could not be proved “objectively unreasonable.”

The bar for charging police officers with federal civil rights violations is extremely high, and prosecutions are rare. The Obama administration, which cultivated an aggressive reputation on such cases, declined to prosecute officers in several high-profile killings, notably the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Mr. Sandy and Mr. Perez each faced a second-degree murder charge in New Mexico for the death, and Mr. Sandy also faced a lesser charge of aggravated battery. Last fall, a New Mexico judge declared a mistrial in that case after a jury was deadlocked, with nine of 12 jurors voting to acquit the men.

This year, the Bernalillo County district attorney, Raúl Torrez, announced that his office would not retry them, concluding that the charges were unlikely to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mr. Perez subsequently returned to the Albuquerque Police Department, where he is working a desk job for a year and not responding to patrol calls, said Luis Robles, a lawyer for Mr. Perez. Mr. Robles called the video of the shooting that had circulated online “dangerous” for having reduced an hours-long standoff to a minute and a half. “In some ways, you wish that video had never existed,” he said.

Sam Bregman, a lawyer for Mr. Sandy, said, “This is the final chapter of a long book,” confirming that his client had retired from the police force and had sought other work. “He was a good cop who did his job, followed his training and should have been recognized instead of prosecuted by the state. The feds made a good decision in terms of not prosecuting.”

The announcement came months after the Justice Department decided not to bring federal charges against two police officers in the shooting death last summer of Alton B. Sterling, a black man in Louisiana.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has criticized investigations of systemic police abuses and the use of so-called consent decrees, which stipulate specific reforms for entire departments. He has said, however, that he does not plan to change the Justice Department’s approach to disciplining individual police officers who abuse their authority.

“The department aggressively prosecutes criminal civil rights violations,” the Justice Department statement on Tuesday said, “whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.”

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