ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The telephone death threats to the home of Officer Dominique Perez began soon after he and an Albuquerque police detective ended a hillside standoff by opening fire on a homeless man who died after being hit in the arms and back.
It was March 2014, and police video from the fatal shooting sparked massive protests in New Mexico’s largest city.
It also marked the first time Perez and Detective Keith Sandy, the other officer who shot homeless camper James Boyd, had fired their weapons while on duty since joining the Albuquerque Police Department nearly a decade earlier.
Last year, they joined 16 other law enforcement officers across the country who were charged in 2015 in on-duty shooting deaths.
“I never thought we’d ever be in a situation like this,” Perez’s wife, Tiffanie, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “We feel like we’re upstanding citizens, and when the shooting happened, it was like what do we do? What next?”
The uncertainty has only deepened for Perez, who has lost his job and income, dealt with ongoing threats and faced mounting legal bills since the shooting.
“We’ve had conversation after conversation and the thing is our lives cannot move on until this is over,” Tiffanie Perez said.
Dominique Perez and Sandy are standing trial on second-degree murder charges in Albuquerque, where attorneys for Perez began laying out their case Wednesday after saying he was obligated to shoot to protect the life of a K-9 handler.
Sandy’s bullets struck Boyd in each arm. A round from Perez struck Boyd in the back.
Since 2005, more than 75 law enforcement officers in the U.S. have been charged with murder or manslaughter in cases stemming from on-duty shootings, with 26 convicted, said Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University who tracks shootings by police.
His data also showed only half of those officers were convicted by a jury — a figure that points to how difficult it can be for a prosecutor to win a conviction in an officer-involved shooting.
Tiffanie Perez told the AP that she and her husband try to avoid discussing court proceedings in front of their three children, and that she started working at a salon after he lost his job.
Both are 35 and met in high school in Albuquerque before he enlisted in the Marines. They got married in 2002, and he deployed to Iraq. On his second tour, his unit encountered a roadside bomb that killed his sergeant and wounded Perez, who was honorably discharged after returning to the U.S.
His scars from the blast remain, including one across the bridge of his nose that was prominent in a mugshot taken last year when he and Sandy were booked.
“That was the hardest part, going to the detention center,” said Tiffanie Perez. “That was my low, and I hate to use the term surreal, but it was, with his photo all over TV constantly.”
For Dominique Perez, the outrage directed at his household and his derailed career show the damage that can be done when charges are filed against law enforcement officers.
He is more than $250,000 in debt due to legal fees, his wife said, and they don’t watch news at home so their children don’t see him on television.
They also disconnected their home telephone after hackers angered by the shooting publicly released Perez’s number and other personal information, prompting a flood of phone calls threatening the family.
The trial for Perez and Sandy has unfolded as shootings by police have fanned tension and debate about the use of deadly force by officers and their interactions with minorities. A female police officer has been charged with first-degree manslaughter in a shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The case against Perez and Sandy has also stirred questions over how police handle conflicts with people in crisis and who have mental illness.
Boyd, who was schizophrenic, had been camping illegally for weeks in the Sandia Mountain foothills when a resident reported him. Special prosecutor Randi McGinn said Boyd was holding two pocket knives when he was shot because he feared police would harm him.
Prosecutors have blamed police for escalating the standoff by calling 19 officers to the campsite and deploying a flash-bomb when it appeared Boyd was gathering his belongings and surrendering.
Unlike Perez, Sandy has a steady income after leaving the police force. He previously was a state police officer and collects a pension of more than $3,000 a month even though he is only 41.
James Fox, an Albuquerque SWAT sergeant at the time of the shooting, has testified that he had seen Perez as a future leader of the SWAT unit before his life and career were thrown off track.
“Even if the officers win this case, they lose,” said Shawn Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque police union, which supports the officers. “Their professional career is over … Who’s going to hire Dominique Perez?”