ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The FBI has opened an investigation into the recent police shooting of a homeless camper as he appeared to be surrendering, officials said Friday.
It is the first confirmed criminal investigation of Albuquerque police by federal officials, who more than a year ago launched a civil rights probe of the department over allegations of excessive force and a spike in police shootings. Since 2010, police have been involved in 37 shootings, 23 of them fatal.
In a rare statement about its actions, the FBI said it will investigate the fatal March 16 shooting to "assure the public that a thorough and fair investigation will be conducted." The FBI generally declines to confirm or deny ongoing probes.
Mayor Richard Berry called the announcement "the right thing, right now. We need answers as a community."
Community leader Ralph Arellanes hailed the news, but said it was "long overdue."
"This was something that caught the attention of the world," Arellanes, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens' New Mexico chapter and a member of the city's police oversight task force, said in reference to video of the shooting that was posted on numerous websites. "It's a tremendous injustice. A tremendous tragedy. And I also think there are more cases that (the U.S. Department of Justice) needs to refer for criminal proceedings."
Albuquerque police fatally shot James Boyd, 38, in the Sandia foothills following an hours-long standoff and after he threatened to kill officers with a small knife, authorities said. He died after officers fired stun guns, bean bags and six live rounds, authorities said.
But a helmet-camera video showed Boyd, who claimed to be a federal agent, agreeing to walk down the mountain with them, gathering his things and taking a step toward officers just before they fired.
Just hours after hundreds took to the streets Tuesday night to protest that shooting, Albuquerque police shot and killed a 30-year-old man at a public housing complex after authorities said he opened fire on officers.
The next day, Department of Justice officials investigating the Albuquerque Police Department met with community members who have complained about a culture of abuse at the police department and a lack of independent review of shootings by officers. At that meeting, officials indicated they have referred some of the cases to criminal investigators, Arellanes said. But he said they declined to say which cases or how many.
Berry said his office has only been notified of one criminal probe by federal officials, the Boyd shooting.
Earlier this week, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said his office also plans to look into the recent shootings.