Unauthorized camping is a petty misdemeanor. The officers could have told Boyd to move along and left it at that. ... [S]etting off a spectacular circus, with as many as 40 police officers reportedly joining the standoff. Among them were uniformed cops and members of the SWAT team, the tactical K-9 unit and the Repeat Offender Project squad.
Not present, Boyd's family would later allege in a complaint, was anyone clearly in charge.
...Boyd's death conformed to many of the patterns governing deadly police violence in Albuquerque. Living with mental illness, Boyd fit the profile of the marginal Albuquerqueans most likely to find themselves shot to death by the city's police. The escalation of a low-level encounter to a standoff involving numerous heavily armed officers wasn't anything new, either. Few were surprised when footage from the lapel camera that Officer Sandy was required to keep running was inexplicably absent. And, as in so many previous officer-involved shootings, Boyd's death was followed by a press conference by the chief of police, who declared the shooting justified and painted Boyd as a dangerous criminal.
But Boyd's case was different. While Officer Sandy's camera didn't produce any video, the helmet-mounted camera of the other shooter, Officer Perez, captured the whole awful sequence of Boyd's death.
...In the past five years, the police department of Albuquerque, a city of just 550,000, has managed to kill 28 people — a per-capita kill rate nearly double that of the Chicago police and eight times that of the NYPD.
...In many respects, the systemic meltdown of the APD (department motto: "In step with our community") offers an excellent lens through which to understand how police in America can run amok. Militarization of gear and tactics, an overreliance on specialized tactical units, a blue wall of silence that protects bad cops from the consequences of their actions, and a heavy hand in interactions with mentally ill citizens — all these factors, present in other departments around the country, are painfully evident in the story of how Albuquerque's police came to kill so many of its citizens.
...But many observers trace Albuquerque's recent problems with excessive force to a decade ago. In 2005, officers Richard Smith and Michael King were killed in the line of duty by a man they were picking up for a mental-health evaluation. King had been an academy classmate of Police Chief Ray Schultz, who, in a tearful press conference after the killings, called it "one of the saddest days in the history of the Albuquerque Police Department." Inside the department, former officers say, the deaths were a turning point: Officer safety became the order of the day.
"It wasn't about the mission," says a former SWAT member. "The new culture was: 'anybody you could shoot.' "
Thomas Grover, a lawyer and retired APD officer who now represents cops in personnel disputes with the department, says, "The general directive of the department became, 'You do what you've got to do to go home at night — and forget the citizens.' "
...The same year Smith and King were killed, Martin Chávez, a centrist Democrat, was running for a third term as mayor on a promise to increase police staffing from 1,000 officers to 1,100. When Chávez won, the department struggled to find enough qualified hires to make good on his promise.
..."Standards were getting lower and lower," says retired APD Lt. Steven Tate, who was the director of training at the police academy at the time. "They were hiring people that other agencies in New Mexico wouldn't take."
The department didn't formally change any hiring policies, Tate says. Instead, it bent the existing rules.
...Among those hires were four officers who had just quit or been fired from the state police for double-dipping — getting paid for outside work even as they were on the clock for the state. They were among the contractors teaching classes at Coyote Canyon, a training site southeast of Albuquerque run by the Department of Energy where former Navy SEALs and Delta Force operators rub shoulders with state and local police officers, taking part in realistic live-fire drills and courses with names like "Rolling Day/Night Convoy Ambushes." Though some former APD officers defend the realistic shoot-house training and expert instruction, others wonder whether such a militarized, gun-focused environment is a healthy part of training for young, impressionable officers. "Looking back," one former officer told local KRQE News 13 reporter Jeff Proctor when he investigated police training at Coyote Canyon, "I'm really not sure how convoy ambushing translated to working as a police officer."
...John maintains that most Albuquerque cops are careful, restrained and good. But the changes on SWAT provoked a moral crisis for him. His whole career, he'd pushed back against the characterization of police as violent thugs. "I understand: We represent authority. 'Fuck authority' — I get that. But to take it to dehumanizing us, where you're just a murderer, a criminal, a wolf in sheep's clothing, I found that very offensive. And so to come to the end of my career and see that it was true — it totally messed me up."
As these changes were taking place inside the department and police shootings began to spike, there was little public outrage. "The targets of police violence were gang members, drunks or street people, and so it wasn't like they were preying on the people who had voted for the politicians," says Jerry Ortiz y Pino, a state senator who represents Albuquerque. "They were preying on the people the politicians were all too glad to see silenced."
The hostility of the city's government to its homeless population is perhaps best illustrated by an episode from 2010, when police began arresting volunteers who were feeding the downtown homeless on Sundays. "Who gave them permission to feed the homeless at all?" asked an internal police e-mail concerning the operation against the volunteers. The e-mail made clear that the initiative had the approval of City Hall. "Darren White [public-safety director at the time] is allowing us to take the gloves off and deal with some issues of concern," the e-mail began. "WOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOO!!!!!!!"
For former APD Officer Dan Klein, the jailing of people for feeding the homeless shows why it's so hard to get popular support for police reform: "If your income is above $200,000 a year, and you live in a nice gated community, and you don't want to be bothered by the panhandler, and you don't want your kids to be accosted by the drunk outside of Trader Joe's, are you crying elephant tears for James Boyd?" he asks. It's not a problem unique to Albuquerque, Klein adds. "It's everywhere — we're just the pimple that is bursting."
...Eight years earlier, a federal jury had awarded a homeless African-American man named Jerome Hall $300,000 in a suit alleging that Gonterman, then a patrol officer, had applied a Taser to the unarmed Hall so relentlessly that Hall was eventually hospitalized with burns to his face, stomach, back, neck, shoulders and calf. According to his lawyer, Hall also lost part of his ear to the Taser burns.
"I've used Tasers," says Klein, the former officer. "The only way you can burn someone's ear off is if you're torturing them. And that guy's a major now!"
It also became clear that for all his public rhetoric of cooperation, Mayor Berry and his administration weren't just going to meekly accept the Justice Department's findings and recommendations. In June 2014, city lawyers argued in federal court that the DOJ's conclusions shouldn't be allowed into evidence in a trial concerning police use of force, saying the report was plagued by "inconsistent language," "inaccuracies" and "questions of reliability."
...It will be months before a judge hears the case against Perez and Sandy and decides whether there's enough evidence to try them for murder or some lesser charge. For observers in Albuquerque, the stakes couldn't be higher. Mike Gomez, who has helped lead the fight to hold police accountable since his son was killed, says the stark video evidence makes this the best chance to put the brakes on a police force out of control.
"The guy was killed in front of the whole world," he says. "If we can't hold you accountable for this, what can we hold you accountable for? What's it going to take?"
The New Yorker:
Stephen, in his eulogy, said that he considered the chief of police, Raymond Schultz, his friend. ... Stephen said that his son’s shooting resembled that of many young men in Albuquerque who were mentally ill and had been killed by police. He begged the chief and the mayor, who worked in Renetta’s building, to meet with him to discuss what had gone wrong. “My wife and I extend our hands to you, Mr. Mayor, and to you, Chief Schultz,” he said. “Please don’t reject our offers.” Schultz was not there. He and Stephen never spoke again.
...Wealthy residents tend to live in the northeastern corner, at the foot of the Sandia Mountains. The division reflects the social climate throughout the state, which has the widest income gap between rich and poor in the country. Gilbert Najar, the director of the police academy in Silver City, New Mexico, who worked for the Albuquerque Police Department for twenty-five years, told me that the department “did policing one way in the South Valley, where there were a lot of immigrant families and people of lower socioeconomic status, and we knew we could violate their rights. But we did not dare commit those tactics in the affluent neighborhoods, where we knew they would file complaints on us.”
...Samuel Walker, an expert in police accountability who was hired in 1996 to co-author one of the reports, after the police killed thirty-two people in ten years, said, “When we gave an oral presentation to the city council, I had a very strong impression that many city-council members were not interested.” He described his conversation with Martin Chávez, the mayor, as one of the most hostile interviews he’s ever conducted. He said that the police chief would not look him in the eyes when he briefed him. One city-council member refused to meet with him or return his calls.
...Morrison said that officers were socialized to be cynical about civilians. “We’re taught to almost dehumanize them,” she said. “It just got to the point where it’s, like, they’re a piece of shit. We don’t care if they raped a baby or were speeding in traffic—everybody’s a piece of shit.”