ALBUQUERQUE – An officer charged with murder in the on-duty shooting death of a homeless man is expected to soon face a hearing to decide his fate with the Albuquerque Police Department, where he has remained on payroll amid protesters calling for his firing since last year.
Officer Dominique Perez is one of two officers charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of James Boyd in the Sandia Mountain foothills. Perez and now-retired detective Keith Sandy, who also has been charged, were booked at an Albuquerque detention center this week but not held, after pleading not guilty to charges during an arraignment hearing Friday. Their jury trial has been scheduled for August 2016.
“It’s kind of unsettling in my mind that these two officers have been a political football,” said Officer Shaun Willoughby, vice president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. “Now Perez is going to lose his job.”
A due-process hearing has not yet been set to determine Perez’s status as an officer, but city policy calls for the police chief to do so within 10 days of Friday’s arraignment, police spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said.
In the past, officers facing criminal charges typically have been terminated under a policy indicating the department may take disciplinary action upon indictment of an officer or a formal criminal charge. But Perez’s case presents a gray area for the department in that his charges stem from an on-duty encounter, and while a potential firing is plausible, it may not be completely certain.
“Is it likely? Yes,” Espinoza said. “Is it in black-and-white at this point? No.”
After the hearing, the department will have two days to issue a final decision.
“I think they are just letting him keep his job as long as possible to support him because they don’t think he did anything wrong,” said David Correia, a professor at the University of New Mexico, who led sit-ins at the Albuquerque mayor’s office in protest of the shooting. “If they at all thought he participated in an unjustified shooting, they would have fired him by now.”
Defense attorneys have maintained that the two officers shot Boyd, who authorities say suffered from mental illness, because he had threatened officers and posed a danger to police.
In video footage from Perez’s helmet camera, Boyd appears to be turning away from police with two knives in hand as shots are fired, ending an hours-long standoff.
Perez, a Marine and a SWAT-team member with the Albuquerque police, joined the police force nearly a decade ago after serving in the Iraq War. His military service ended when he was injured in a roadside bomb explosion during his second tour.
Since the Boyd shooting, Perez has remained on administrative leave, which Willoughby said he wished could continue for the 34-year-old officer and father of three, but has his doubts.
“It’s just kind of a low blow to the heart. He did exactly what he was trained to do and hired to do,” Willoughby said. “Where he’s going to go work? Who’s’ going to want to hire Dominique Perez?”
Defense attorneys say they will seek a change of venue for the officers’ jury trial because of the ongoing media coverage of the shooting, as well as the protests and legal proceedings that followed.