New Mexico officers plead not guilty in shooting death that led to protests, police reforms

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FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2015 file photo, former Albuquerque Police detective Keith Sandy, left, and Officer Dominique Perez speak with attorneys during a preliminary hearing in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. They are expected to be arraigned Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 on second-degree murder charges in the on-duty shooting death of a homeless man who authorities say suffered from mental illness.(AP Photo/Russell Contreras, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — An Albuquerque police officer and retired detective who killed a homeless man last year pleaded not guilty Friday to second-degree murder charges stemming from the on-duty shooting death that led to protests and police reforms in New Mexico's largest city.

Officer Dominique Perez and now-retired Detective Keith Sandy appeared at the arraignment hearing in Second District Court. Neither has spent any time in custody.

Judge Judith Nakamura ordered the men to be booked at an Albuquerque detention center by next week, but not held. Prosecutors did not object.

"No one should take away that they received any special treatment," Perez's attorney Luis Robles said, noting the judge's decision followed proper legal standards, given neither officer had a prior criminal record. "The state has to show the defendant is a danger to our community or a flight risk."

Last month, Pro Tem Judge Neil Candelaria ruled there was probable cause for the officers' case to go to trial. His decision followed a two-week preliminary hearing in which Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn argued James Boyd couldn't have posed a threat to officers when he was killed because he was shot in the side and back.

In video of the March 2014 shooting, Boyd is shown turning away from police when the officers open fire. Boyd, 38, was camping illegally in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains at the time.

His death sparked rallies and protests, including one that closed City Hall during a City Council meeting.

The shooting preceded a broader national debate about police-involved shootings and officers' use of force, and led to reforms within the Albuquerque Police Department.

"What struck me, and this is coincidental, is that the arraignment proceeding took place on 9/11. And if you think back to 9/11, law enforcement was looked upon very different by the public," Robles said. "I find that a cruel irony."

Defense attorneys contend Boyd, who was schizophrenic, presented a danger and had threatened officers, leaving them no choice but to shoot as their training had taught them.

"As we said all along, Keith Sandy not only did his job but did his duty to protect the other officers," said defense attorney Sam Bregman, who represents Sandy.

Footage from an officer's helmet camera of the shooting and the hours-long standoff that preceded it shows Boyd apparently surrendering when officers detonate a flash bomb near him. He then drops his bag and pulls two knives before Perez and Sandy shoot him.

Boyd was transported to a hospital, where he died after his arm was amputated.

Perez and Sandy could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. A voluntary manslaughter conviction carries a term of up to three years.

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