December 5, 2016

Law enforcement board to review how shootings by police officers are investigated

Screenshot of Albuquerque Police Department video of the shooting of James Boyd.

Attorney General Hector Balderas, who also chairs the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board, appointed a group to look into the policies and procedures behind investigations into shootings by police officers and use of force incidents in the state.

The announcement of the review by a new subcommittee of the board came hours before a mistrial in South Carolina, where police officer shot Michael Slager shot Walter Scott, a black man, in the back as Scott ran away. Scott died.

The April 4, 2015 incident was caught on video and quickly made news around the country after it happened.

“Officer-involved shootings can have devastating consequences for both the civilian and law enforcement communities,” Balderas said in a statement.

He said his office has been studying the issue, including the methodologies of investigating such shootings in other states, for over a year.

“We believe that following an incident, officers, families, and the public deserve a process they can trust, starting with the investigation,” Balderas said. “Good investigations depend on sound, consistent policies, and that is why I called for this review.”

The AG’s office says the review will include over 190 law enforcement agencies in the state.

New Mexico recently saw a high-profile case involving two police officers charged with murder of a homeless camper. The camper, James Boyd, was shot and killed by Albuquerque Police officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez.

The jury could not come to a decision on 2nd degree murder charges. Special prosecutor Randi McGinn dropped the charges against Perez, but the murder charge against Sandy could be re-filed by the incoming district attorney, Raul Torrez.

A recent investigation by the Santa Fe New Mexican and New Mexico In Depth examined the handling of the Boyd case and the conflicts of interest inherent in investigating shootings by on-duty police officers.

“This statewide review is the first step in what must be a multi-faceted and collaborative process that involves the input of all affected parties,” Balderas said. “There is no simple way to address this critical public safety issue, and I am committed to promoting consistent processes that advance integrity and transparency across New Mexico law enforcement agencies.”

The members of the board are New Mexico State Police chief Pete Kassetas, Elisabeth L. Miller, Ph.D., Kelly Burnham and Ramah Navajo Department of Public Safety Chief Darren Soland. Miller and Burnham and citizen board members.