MARY HUDETZ, Associated Press ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) 10/06 — Attorneys for a retired Albuquerque police detective on trial in the killing of a homeless camper presented him as a well-trained, veteran officer who had been shot at by suspects but never returned fire until the shooting that resulted in charges against him.
The profile of Keith Sandy came in contrast to 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. Sandy, 41, has been described by special prosecutor Randi McGinn as a detective who was eager to impress other officers in his elite but controversial unit established to target violent career criminals when she says he inserted himself into the standoff with Boyd, who suffered from mental illness.
Sandy testified for four hours Wednesday about his actions in the standoff with Boyd and a crass 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.” The defense rested its case shortly afterward, setting the stage for closing arguments Thursday.
“It was just a word I used,” Sandy testified about the “lunatic” comment. “I regret saying it deeply … I have not used the word since.”
The final day of testimony included plenty of 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 contends the officers faced in dealing with Boyd.
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 after she attempted to recreate the scene of the standoff by propping up blow-up, cardboard cutout images 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, one of which was amputated in an attempt to save his life before he died the next morning at a hospital. Perez’s round struck Boyd in the back.
The special prosecutor faults Sandy for being behind some of the 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.
Before jurors, McGinn questioned him 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 under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.
In a more than yearlong investigation, the Justice Department had found Albuquerque police had engaged in a pattern of excessive force, especially in encounters with the mentally ill and others in crisis who could not comply with officers’ commands. The results of that investigation were released a month after Boyd’s death.
With Boyd, the encounter began when a resident reported his illegal campsite situated 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. He testified that he notified his sergeant he was en route and other members of his unit also responded, including a K-9 handler.
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.” Sandy, who is 41, retired from the Police Department the same year as the shooting.
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 said.