Albuquerque District Attorney Kari Brandenburg plans to file murder charges against two police officers for the fatal shooting of homeless man James Boyd last March, the DA's office said.
In a press release put out Monday, the DA's office confirmed that "criminal informations were filed in the Second Judicial Court in connection with the fatal shooting of James Boyd. The informations contain a single count of open murder against both Albuquerque Police Officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez."
A preliminary hearing in the case will now be set by the court. The filing of a murder charge will allow prosecutors to pursue charges ranging from manslaughter to first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence.
KRQE reports that New Mexico law allows prosecutors to charge suspects without seeking a grand jury indictment, but the practice is rare.
Last March, Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia, was found camping in the foothills outside Albuquerque by police. Boyd engaged in a long standoff with police while wielding a knife. Police helmet-cam footage of the altercation captured officers fatally shooting Boyd after it appeared that he was surrendering.
The charges against the two cops come as the Albuquerque Police Department is currently working with the U.S. Justice Department on an overhaul of its use-of-force practices after a 2014 report found the APD to be one of the most deadly and negligent police departments in the country.
The killing of Boyd last year sparked unrest and protests in the community by citizens fed up with the APD's use-of-force procedures and the lack of punishment for officers found to have used unnecessary deadly force.
Lawyers for Sandy and Perez told the Associated Press that they expect their clients to beat the charges.
Keith Sandy's lawyer, Sam Bregman said in a statement to BuzzFeed News:
"This was a bad decision by the district attorney's office in charging Keith Sandy with murder. It's unjustified, and we will vindicate Keith's good name through the judicial process.
As a police officer, Keith not only had the right but the duty to defend his fellow officer from a mentally unstable, violent man wielding two knives.
Keith followed his training, did nothing wrong and probably saved his fellow officers' lives.
While Mr Boyd's death is a tragedy it is not the result of any criminal act by Keith."
Bregman anticipates that the preliminary hearing will last a couple weeks and will include "dozens and dozens of witnesses."
DA Kari Brandenburg issued a statement Monday, pointing out that a Court will have to find probable cause in order for the officers to face murder charges.
"The Second Judicial District Attorney's Office has filed criminal informations charging Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez with an open charge of murder relating to the March 16, 2014 shooting of James Boyd. We anticipate this matter to proceed to preliminary hearing, and it is our goal to make that happen at the earliest possible opportunity. An open charge of murder means that a Court, based upon the evidence, can bind the defendant over on first degree, second degree, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or any other charges deemed appropriate. The Court may also find there is insufficient evidence to substantiate binding the defendant over on any charge. By using a preliminary hearing, all of the evidence will be heard, and the public and the media will have access to everything the Court will have access to when making its decision. We feel that it is in everybody's best interest to be informed as to the facts in this case. Our goal is to seek justice, and that is our only goal."