Albuquerque, New Mexico-based scholar and activist David Correia responds to the Bernalillo County District Attorney filing preliminary murder charges against the two police officers for killing homeless man James Boyd


Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. In an update to a story The Real News has been following, two Albuquerque police officers have been charged with murder for the shooting death of an unarmed homeless man, James Boyd. The incident was captured on police body camera. A warning to our viewers: the following video is very graphic. [VIDEO PLAYS] The incident sparked wide-ranging protests in Albuquerque last year, where police have shot 40 people since 2010, 27 of them fatally. The Albuquerque Journal reports that the charges against the two officers, Dominique Perez and detective Keith Sandy, are the first such charges against police there in half a century. While we now go to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the latest, we’re joined by David Correia. He’s an associate professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico who writes about police violence in Albuquerque. Thank you so much for joining us, David. DAVID CORREIA, ASSIST. PROF. AMERICAN STUDIES, UNIV. NEW MEXICO: You’re welcome. NOOR: So, David, you were involved in the anti-police brutality movement last year. You were among the 13 people arrested protesting the lack of accountability for the police. We talked about all the killings that have happened in the last several years in Albequerque. The lawyers for the police say the officers are innocent and will be proved such in court. What’s your response? CORREIA: Well, video tells the story, I think. And it’s not just that video that shocked so many people when it was released in late March of last year. It’s a thousand pages of an investigation into the murder of James Boyd that included audio of one of those officers, Detective Keith Sandy, saying an hour before he did it that he was planning to shoot James Boyd. So I think that their defense attorneys have some work cut out for them, because it’s not just the video that demonstrates that they committed murder. NOOR: And so the charging DA, Kari Brandenberg, she didn’t go to a grand jury. And I want to get your response to that, because she filed charges directly. Unlike Ferguson and New York City, she said, referring to the officers involved in the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, she said, quote, people will see the evidence and hear the witnesses. And that was reported by The New York Times. What’s your response? CORREIA: Well, I was at the press conference yesterday where she released that statement. There’s some context here that makes New Mexico a bit different than in Ferguson or Staten Island. For years, in the 13 years that Kari Brandenberg has been the DA, she’s often brought officer-involved shooting cases to a grand jury, and they’ve always exonerated officers. And a few years ago, a reporter from the Albequerque Journal revealed that those were special investigative grand juries designed solely for police officers that didn’t even have the authority to charge an officer with any crime at all. It wasn’t transparent at all. And so they threw those grand juries out. There was really no option for Kari Brandenberg. She was either going to have to declare that shooting justified or bring it to a preliminary hearing, which is the equivalent of a grand jury. I mean, what’s happening here is she didn’t really charge them with murder. She sent an information sheet to the court, and they will have a preliminary hearing. It’s going to be about a two- to three-week mini trial, she called it in the press conference, in which a judge will decide if charges are warranted, and only then will they be charged with murder, possibly, could be a lower charge, second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter. And only at that point would they potentially go to trial for murder. NOOR: And so, the difference is that this process will be public. CORREIA: Yeah, it’s a trial like any other trial. A preliminary hearing takes testimony. There’ll be witnesses. Evidence will be presented. It’ll be in an open courtroom. She’s guessed yesterday that it would be about a three-week trial in front of a judge. NOOR: And the Justice Department last year weighed in on the police department in Albuquerque, and in a report, in a scathing report they released, they said, quote, of the 20 officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities from 2009 to 2012, they concluded that a majority of these shootings were unconstitutional. Albuquerque police officers often used deadly force in circumstances where there is no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to officers or others. So why hasn’t there been a broader set of prosecutions or police officers held accountable? Because the most recent story The Real News did, it seems like police are still acting with impunity. CORREIA: Right. In fact, in the 13 years that Kari Brandenberg has been DA, the police have killed 46 people in Albuquerque. And I asked her yesterday at the press conference, why are there–and a number of reporters asked her, why haven’t there been other charges brought? And she said, this is the only case where she’s found probable cause. And that’s shocking, because not only did the DOJ report point out this pattern of unconstitutional policing and the pattern of unjustified lethal and nonlethal force, but also pointed out that the police department here is deficient in its investigations. And the only information the DA gets in investigations of officer involved shootings is from the Albuquerque Police Department. So they investigate themselves, along with the New Mexico State Police, and then deliver that report to the DA. And with that report she decides if charges are warranted. So in one respect it’s not a surprise that she’s never found probable cause, because she’s relying on the same police department she’s investigating to investigate itself. In this case it’s different. I mean, then video is shocking, the evidence of the officers really talking about shooting James Boyd, even before encountering him in the foothills. It’s a shocking case. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that there should be more officers held accountable in Albuquerque and there haven’t been. NOOR: And so what are the grassroots movements in Albuquerque calling for now? Are they calling for special prosecutors and civilian oversight boards with teeth? And those are the kind of calls we’re seeing in Baltimore and in other cities around the country. CORREIA: Right. Well, places like Baltimore, Cleveland, which is just going through this process–the DOJ just released a report on the Cleveland Police Department. They’ve got some tough sledding ahead, because we were not able to arrive at real meaningful civilian oversight. And we haven’t yet been able to take the authority to investigate and prosecute officers out of the hands of the district attorney. Yesterday at the press conference she said she would support any efforts to take the authority to prosecute officers out of the District Attorney’s office. And New Mexico’s about to go into a legislative session, and there is a bill to create an independent investigator of all officer-involved shootings in New Mexico. That would go a long way toward resolving the lack of accountability we’ve experienced here, and, I think, elsewhere as well. NOOR: And The Real News just reported that in Wisconsin last year they passed the first such bill where local police departments would not be responsible for investigating incidents where their officers are involved in fatal shootings. Thank you so much for joining us, David Correia, joining us from Albuquerque, New Mexico. CORREIA: You’re welcome. NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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David Correia

David Correia is the author of Properties of Violence: Law and Land Grant Struggle in Northern New Mexico . The book examined violent social movement struggle over historic and contemporary property claims in New Mexico. He teaches and writes about law and violence, environmental politics, and social movements. He is a senior editor for the scholarly journal Capitalism Nature Socialism, a co-editor of La jicarita: An Online Magazine of Environmental Politics in New Mexico and a regular contributor on environmental social movements and police violence in New Mexico for Albuquerque's alternative newspaper, The Weekly Alibi. He works actively with local organizations and families of victims of police violence in Albuquerque on struggles against police violence.