In the days after James Boyd was killed by police in Albuquerque, questions arose about whether officers specially trained to talk to people who are mentally ill had been sent to the scene. And it turned out, that an officer known for deescalating situations like the one was sent to the foothills that day in 2014.
Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez are facing second-degree murder charges for shooting and killing Boyd. During their trial, testimony from that specially trained crisis intervention officer was key.
Public Health New Mexico’s Marisa Demarco is covering the trial for KUNM. She spoke with host Chris Boros.
KUNM: Tell us about this crisis negotiator. What did he say in court?
DEMARCO: Mikal Monette testified that he spoke to a lot of people in crisis and homeless people during his career. And he was kind of known for it.
He said on the stand that he spent more than an hour talking to James Boyd. First, focusing on things like asking Boyd not to put his hands in his pockets, which was alarming for the officers. And then later when Boyd was calmer, Monette was offering him food and a hotel room. The officers who were there were told Boyd not to cross a certain line or they were going to shoot him with a bean bag gun, and Boyd didn’t cross that line.
Monette was pulled out of his conversation with Boyd, and tactical officers went in instead. The prosecution made a point earlier of showing those officers were dressed kind of militaristically. They didn’t look like normal officers. Monette said he didn’t know why he was pulled away, and that he wasn’t asked to brief his replacements.
KUNM: Did Monette say in court whether he thinks things could have ended differently if he had been able to keep talking to Boyd?
DEMARCO: The defense wouldn’t really let him answer that question on the grounds that it’s speculation. But he said he made some headway before he was reassigned to the perimeter. He described on the stand hearing the shots that killed Boyd.
An Albuquerque Journal article from the spring said Monette was asked to search Boyd after he’d been shot, while he was handcuffed, and then he was assigned to ride with him to the hospital. It also said Monette admitted to having some PTSD after this incident in 2014.
KUNM: We’ve heard a lot about how police departments interact with people with mentally illnesses. Has anything changed since the shooting in 2014?
DEMARCO: Yeah, even before Boyd this was a really big issue in Albuquerque. Other people with mental illnesses were shot here. It was a big part of the U.S. Department of Justice findings that APD wasn’t interacting with mentally ill people very well. And they looked at shootings and less-than-lethal options like Tasers. They said APD was over using those on people with mental illness, too. They said officers showed a lack of training when it came to calls for people in crisis. They also said people like Monette were encouraging, but sometimes officers were not reaching out to those crisis trained officers.
The agreement between the DOJ and the city said that they had to make a specialized response for mental health related calls, and to minimize use of force. Afterwards, APD tried to increase the crisis training for the whole force, after the Boyd shooting happened.
KUNM: There’s a need for mental health care and substance abuse treatment here in New Mexico overall. But what does that really mean for law enforcement?
DEMARCO: Many people all over the state are getting mental health care in jail. And I heard from Bernalillo County jail officials awhile ago that people come in, get stabilized on medications, they get released with a short supply of those medications, and then when those run out they get re-arrested, and get sent back to jail. So that means for some folks the path to mental health care includes the back of a squad car. Because there aren’t a lot of other great options, police are handling a ton of these kinds of issues and calls. Behavioral health providers closing has had an impact on law enforcement and the nature of the job police and jails are doing.
KUNM: Bernalillo county voters approved a tax that went into effect in 2015. The idea was that the money would go to help folks in mental health crisis. What’s the status of that money?
DEMARCO: When the tax hit the ballot, everyone was talking about these mental health triage centers. Basically places that people in crisis could go to calm down and get connected to resources. We haven’t seen those yet, but the commission is considering how to spend that $17 million that’s coming in to help. And part of what it is paying for so far is housing for folks exiting jails. And they are also looking at a team to help people with mental illness or addiction. They are looking at a homeless youth shelter, we’ll hear all about that in the news soon.
Public Health New Mexico is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation.