The killing of a mentally ill homeless man by New Mexico cops two weeks ago was caught on camera — a disturbing scene that became the flash point for Albuquerque residents already alarmed by a rise in police-involved shootings.
Tensions boiled over late Sunday as hundreds of protesters and cops in riot gear clashed on downtown streets.
But the unrest appears far from over: Online hacktivist collective Anonymous — no stranger to fomenting outrage — has pledged to keep a cyber spotlight on the Albuquerque Police Department’s problems.
It’s the latest campaign for the same shadowy group that brought attention to Occupy Wall Street and the Steubenville rape case.
“APD you now have the full attention of Anonymous,” the group warned in a YouTube post last week calling for Sunday’s protest. “To the citizens of Albuquerque, it’s time to organize.”
“Anonymous grab your cannons and aim them at Albuquerque police websites,” they concluded.
Anonymous and other activists accuse cops of murdering James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who was camping in an unauthorized area of the city’s Sandia foothills on March 16.
A police officer’s lapel camera captured footage of the standoff around 7:30 p.m. that day. In the video, Boyd appeared agitated as at least four officers and a police dog closed in on him. At one point, he grabbed his belongings and told the officers he would go with them.
Then, one of the officers lobbed a flash-bang grenade as a diversion.
“Get on the ground! Get on the ground now!” the officers yelled at Boyd.
Boyd appeared to turn around when an officer fired at him. Police claimed that Boyd, who was clutching knives when he was shot, had threatened them during the standoff. Police shot six live rounds as well as bean bags and stun guns.
Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden stood by his officers' actions.
“All of the less-than-lethal devices were in fact deployed,” Eden said at a news conference following the release of the video, according to NBC affiliate KOB. “It was when the K9 officer was down directing the K9 dog that the suspect pulled out the two knives and directed a threat to the K9 officer who had no weapons drawn.”
Eden said Boyd had previously threatened officers at the site. His rap sheet included various assaults and disorderly conduct arrests over the years.
In 2009, Boyd was accused of slicing a man’s face several times with a box cutter during a fight at a homeless shelter. The following year, he broke the nose of an officer during a disturbance at a city library. The charges in the latter case were dismissed because of his mental health issues, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
The FBI said Friday it was opening an investigation into the Boyd shooting on top of a Department of Justice probe into possible civil rights abuses by the city’s police department.
New Mexico’s attorney general also said last week he would review the latest fatal shootings.
This March 16, 2014 photo of an Albuquerque Police Department lapel camera still shows a standoff with an illegal camper in the Albuquerque foothills before cops fired six shots at the man. Police say James Boyd, 38, refused to drop a knife and had threatened to kill officers. He later died at a nearby hospital.
Of the department’s 37 civilian-involved shootings since 2010, 23 have been fatal — far too many, critics say, for a force that oversees about 555,000 people.
Justin Elder, 24, took part in Sunday's protest and held a sign that read, "APD: Dressed To Kill."
"That's what this police force is about," Elder said.
Another protester, Alexander Siderits, 23, said he was participating because he was "fed up" with how police treat citizens. "It has reached a boiling point," he said, "and people just can't take it anymore."
In another high-profile case in Albuquerque, Iraq War veteran Kenneth Ellis III was shot dead by police while holding a gun to his own head during a 2010 standoff at a convenience store. Ellis had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to reports. A jury last year ruled the city pay Ellis' son $10.3 million as part of a wrongful-death suit. City officials have appealed.
While protesters are using the spate of shootings as a call for reform, Anonymous is going after the police via cyberattacks.
The group temporarily took down the Albuquerque Police Department's website Sunday, and a hacker also released a list of personal phone numbers of officers on the force.
"APD you now have the full attention of Anonymous..."
The police department's Twitter and Facebook pages also remained inaccessible Monday.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez called for restraint among the public as federal investigators continue their review.
"Albuquerque is going through a tough time, and they'll figure it out through the investigation," the governor said Monday. "We want that to be thorough. We want confidence in the investigation, but I just don't want to see anyone harmed."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published March 31 2014, 6:10 PM