ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A special prosecutor dismissed a second-degree murder charge Monday against one of two former Albuquerque police officers charged in the shooting death of a homeless man that was captured on police video and set off protests in New Mexico’s largest city.
Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn filed the notice to dismiss the charge against former Officer Dominique Perez more than a month after a nearly three-week jury trial for Perez and the other officer ended with a judge declaring a mistrial because jurors said they could not agree on a verdict.
The shooting had derailed Perez’s nearly decade-long law enforcement career in which the Iraq War veteran had risen through the ranks to become a SWAT officer before he and now-retired Detective Keith Sandy were charged in the death of homeless camper James Boyd.
“Saying that Dominique Perez is relieved terribly understates the weight that has been lifted from his shoulders,” said Luis Robles, the former officer’s attorney.
McGinn filed the notice to dismiss without prejudice, which leaves open the option for prosecutors to file charges later. But incoming District Attorney Raul Torrez, who takes office in January, or a special prosecutor would have to take the case before a judge for a preliminary hearing or a grand jury if they decided to refile charges.
“To do that would take an awful lot,” Robles said.
McGinn did not drop the second-degree murder charge against Sandy, the other officer who opened fire during the March 2014 standoff. His rejected a plea deal this month to plead guilty to a lesser charge, and his retrial is tentatively scheduled for July.
Defense attorneys for Sandy and Perez maintain Boyd’s death represented a justified shooting by law enforcement officers.
It was among some 20 fatal shootings by Albuquerque police in a four-year period that had outraged local activists and relatives of the dead.
Under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for more than a year over allegations of excessive force, police faced a scathing federal report after Boyd’s death describing a “culture of aggression” and faulting officers for using unreasonable force with the mentally ill.
For Perez, the 2014 shooting marked the first time he had opened fire. He had been called by his sergeant to the standoff in the Sandia Mountain foothills and was among the last officers to arrive.
Video from Perez’s helmet camera showed the final moments of the standoff with Boyd, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and sparked questions over officers’ handling of encounters with the mentally ill at a time when debate over shootings by law enforcement, mostly focused on race, began to regain hold nationwide.
In the video, Boyd is heard yelling threats at officers in short bursts of outrage but also saying he feared they would hurt him. Nineteen Albuquerque and state police officers arrived on the scene after Boyd pulled two pocket knives on the first two officers to respond to a resident’s complaint of his illegal campsite.
Boyd was shot in the back and arms close to nightfall. Moments before he was struck, he had told officers he would walk down the hillside with them, but soon pulled his knives again after Sandy detonated a flash bang and a K-9 unit closed distance on the camper.
Sandy’s attorneys depicted him as a well-trained, veteran officer who had never fired his weapon on duty until the shooting that resulted in charges against him.
McGinn presented a different portrait, as she questioned Sandy about his firing from the State Police over his involvement in a time card fraud scandal, and played dashcam video for jurors in which Sandy is overheard calling Boyd a “lunatic” and saying he was going to fire a stungun at the camper.
McGinn faulted Sandy for rushing a failed plan to take Boyd into custody with less-lethal force. Sandy denied the accusations and said he regretted his remarks about Boyd that came before he was shot.
Sandy retired from the police force in 2014, while Perez was fired last year after both men were arraigned. Perez is seeking to get his job back.