Bob Owens, my Confederate Yankee co-blogger, added this brief update on the indictment of Thomas Mendiola, the officer that shot Erik Scott four times in the back. 

05-14-11:  Officer in Erik Scott Shooting Indicted for Arming a Felon

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with the Las Vegas PD:

A Las Vegas police officer involved in a fatal shooting outside the Summerlin Costco last year has been indicted on a felony weapons charge in a separate incident.

The indictment returned Friday charges officer Thomas Mendiola with disposal of a firearm to a prohibited person. He is accused of giving a handgun to a two-time felon.

Mendiola, 23, an employee of the Metropolitan Police Department since March 2009, has been relieved of his patrol duties at the Convention Center Area Command .

If convicted, Mendiola faces 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. I’ll be interested to see what kind of deal Vegas authorities reach with him so that he stays quiet about what he knows about the police cover-up of the Scott killing.

In this update, I discussed the continuing troubles of soon to be ex-Metro officer Thomas Mendiola as well as Officer Derek Colling, who was prominently mentioned in a recent Las Vegas Review Journal five-part series on Metro’s voluminous killings of citizens.  Reviewing these updates, it’s interesting to find that the LVRJ came to precisely the same conclusions, just many months later and not nearly in such depth.  Perhaps the guys sitting in their living rooms in their PJs aren’t so bad after all.

As always, those interested in reading the comments that accompanied each original article should visit the Confederate Yankee Erik Scott Archive.

05-15-11: The Erik Scott Case, Update 11.2: Patterns and Process

Since Update 11 on April 17, there have been a number of interesting developments. This update will deal primarily with the continuing saga of Officer Thomas Mendiola, the case of Officer Derek Colling, issues relating to the new inquest procedure and additional information on the National Association of Police Organizations–NAPO– and its bestowing of undeserved hero status on two of the officers who shot Erik Scott. First, links relating to the matters discussed in this update:

For Update 10 (02-06-11), relating to the arrest and suspension of Officer Mendiola for giving a firearm to a felon, go here.

For Update 10.2 (03-27-11) relating to the unprovoked assault and brutal beating of a citizen by Metro officer Derek Colling, go here.

For Update 10.3 (04-02-11) relating to the latest developments in the Clark County inquest procedures, go here.

For Update 11 (04-17-11) relating to the awarding of “Honorable Mention TOP COP” status to Officers Mosher and Stark by the NAPO, go here.

For an April 26 Las Vegas Review-Journal update on the Colling/Crooks beating story, go here.

For the YouTube video–shot by Crooks’ videocamera– of the beating, go here.

For a May 13 Las Vegas Sun update on Mendiola’s arrest, go here.

For a PDF of the criminal complaint in the Mendiola case, go here.

For a May 13 Las Vegas Review-Journal update on the Mendiola case, go here.

For a My News 3 Update on the Inquest procedures, go here.

For a brief story relating to officer shootings in Milwaukee, WI, go here.

For a Las Vegas Tribune editorial on Metro corruption, go here.

THE COLLING BEATING:

In Update 10.2 (03-27-11), I detailed the case of Officer Derek Colling who was charged by Las Vegas resident and videographer Mitchell Crooks of beating him in an unprovoked attack on March 20. In that update, I concluded that Colling, who initially claimed that he was arresting Crooks for trespassing, but eventually charged him only with battery on a police officer, made a false arrest, an arrest attended by a brutal beating of Crooks who was standing on his own property while videotaping what to this day appears to be an unremarkable and apparently legitimate police action in his neighborhood. While it was not possible then to know exactly what happened, it appeared that Crooks’ version of events had the ring of truth and Colling’s did not. It now appears clear that what happened was an egregious case of “contempt of cop.”

“Contempt of cop” is a play on words of the common legal term “contempt of court.” The latter refers to a judge holding someone responsible for conduct–usually in the courtroom–that is disrespectful or disruptive, that reflects blatant contempt for the law, the judge and his lawful authority. The former is similar. It refers to a cop’s reaction to the same kind of behavior by a citizen in their presence. In the best sense of the term, an officer’s attention will be attracted by someone who goes out of their way to irrationally and unnecessarily antagonize a police officer in a public setting. In such circumstances, it would be foolish for any officer to allow that person to go unpunished lest their behavior encourage others to insult, even attack other officers.

For professionals, it’s not a matter of personal feelings. Professional officers don’t take things personally.  They know that they act on authority granted them by the people and that when someone foolishly shows contempt for them, they are actually showing contempt for the law, for those who made the law and those who gave them the authority to make and enforce it: the people. Indeed, people have a right to behave stupidly and to express foolish opinions, but those rights are not unlimited. In most legitimate cases of contempt of cop, people are correctly arrested for disturbing the peace, and usually only after the officer involved has given them more than sufficient chances to avoid being arrested. The officer’s peers may joke about contempt of cop thereafter, but professionals all know that what they’re actually saying is that the person who was arrested more than deserved it and that the arrest was completely legitimate. In my police career, I found myself in that situation on several occasions.

Contempt of cop also applies to the worst instincts some police officers develop. In those cases, officers become “badge-heavy,” they begin to take matters personally. They become hypersensitive to any insult, real or imagined. They don’t consider the elements of the law; they take offense, act first and make up the rest later. Such officers are unpredictable and dangerous, not only to the public but to their fellow officers who know that the bad will of the public is cumulative. Abuse the citizenry enough, and the officers who suffer for it–and some will suffer–will often be professionals, men and women of good will undeserving of their fates.

The case of Metro Officer Derek Colling appears to be such a case. The video shows Colling, approaching Mitchell Crooks, demanding that he stop videotaping him. Crooks, politely, calling Colling “Sir,” declined. Without provocation and cause, Colling attacked Crooks, knocking him and his expensive camera to the ground and repeatedly hitting and kicking him. One kick, likely the kick that broke Crook’s nose, is at least partially visible in the video, a video made from the viewpoint of the camera, on its side on the ground, not framing the beating but clearly recording the audio of all that occurred.

Crook’s screams of surprise and pain, his calls for help, are clear and disturbing. More disturbing are the calculated, crude and ugly comments of Colling who repeatedly threatens Crooks, threatening to beat him again even though Crooks is handcuffed—helpless and unresisting–making fun of his pain and repeatedly calling out “quit resisting,” as he pummels a prostrate and injured Crooks.

The tape reveals an officer cynically calling “quit resisting” because he knows there are witnesses, including two suspects in the back of his car (though they have not been identified and reports are that they were not actually arrested or booked). Honest officers might do this in an earnest attempt to encourage someone who is actually resisting to stop so that they can use only the minimum force necessary to arrest them. Officers like Colling do it to try to cover themselves as they, without cause and justification, brutalize an innocent citizen.

The District Attorney’s office has dropped all charges against Crooks, who has filed a lawsuit. Sheriff Doug Gillespie has declined to comment, and amazingly, Officer Collling remains on duty. David Otto, Crooks’ attorney said:

‘Officer Colling was aggravated that a citizen should have the audacity to video tape, him — a Las Vegas Metropolitan Patrol Officer,” Otto wrote. ‘Officer Colling decided to use the fear and terror of his physical ability to beat Mr. Crooks into submission — to teach Mr. Crooks and, by example, all citizens and residents of the Las Vegas Valley.’

Quite so. Colling’s version of the incident appears to be, to put it kindly, fanciful.

As I noted in Update 10.2, this case and the Scott case are related in many ways. Any competent investigator looks for similarities, patterns that help them find the truth. When I began investigating and writing about the Scott case, I knew nothing at all about Metro or its reputation. I briefly visited Las Vegas nearly three decades ago, but had no real connection to it or anyone involved in the case. I was, in short, more than willing to give the officers involved and Metro the benefit of the doubt. I have learned that they don’t deserve it. The similarities in both cases illustrate why:

(1) In both cases, officers acted without justification and were not in control of themselves or of the situation.

(2) In both cases, an officer involved had previously shot two citizens. As I’ve noted in prior updates, it is rare for any officer to have killed anyone in an entire career, let alone two people. In the cases of Officers Colling and Mosher, they killed three between them (one shot by Mosher lived) within a span of only about five years. With the Scott case, Mosher had shot three and killed two. In normal, professional law enforcement agencies, this would be unheard of and a cause for real alarm and concern.

An illustrative example may be found in the link to a Milwaukee police shooting. In that case, a man with a knife charged two officers. One of the officers fired, striking him several times, yet he still held the knife, dropping it only after the officer’s continuing commands to disarm. The man was treated and released from the hospital the following day. The article explains a state of police affairs that would appear to be utterly foreign to Metro:

The use of force is “a rare event” for Milwaukee police officers, according to a newly released 2010 report of the Fire and Police Commission.
The report states there were 511 cases of use of force against people last year out of 38,641 arrests [1.3%].

I’ve no idea of Metro’s statistics in this regard, but I suspect they’d be larger [NOTE: the recent Las Vegas Review Journal series confirms my suspicions—take the link at the beginning of this update]. I’ve little doubt that the number of Metro officers who have shot and/or killed citizens, even multiple citizens, would be far out of proportion to virtually any other police department of similar size. I know that in some ways, Las Vegas is unique, but it would certainly be interesting to see reliable figures.

(3) In each case, supervisors were involved and had the opportunity, then and there, to hold officers who made serious mistakes accountable, to stop a chain of events that would only make matters worse, but not only did nothing to prevent things from getting further out of hand, but may have engaged in a continuing cover up of police wrongdoing.

In the Colling case, for example, it must have been clear to any rational supervisor that Colling had no probable cause for arrest, and certainly no justification for his brutal beating of Crooks. The trumped up trespassing charge was dropped at the scene and Crooks was charged with assaulting Colling in perhaps one of the worst and most ironic cases of projection extant. In this case and the Scott case, the first line supervisor had the opportunity to stop improper and illegal actions then and there and did not take it. This seems all too common with Metro.

(4) In each case, common professional procedures and practices were abandoned or ignored, and dangerous and glaring mistakes that would cause officers in professional agencies to be immediately investigated, disciplined and potentially fired were overlooked, if they were recognized at all.

(5) In both cases, the officers involved were apparently either incredibly incompetent, incredibly corrupt or both and enjoyed what appears to be, at the very least, the support of their superiors. Consider that all of the officers involved (with the exception of Mendiola) are still on duty, and two have been cited as national examples of police excellence (more on this shortly).

If these were the only two cases in recent memory of similarly unprofessional behavior, they could easily be explained away as aberrations. I do not for a moment suggest that every Metro officer is corrupt or incompetent or that they engage in incompetence and corruption in all, or in even most, of their official actions. But as I’ve noted in past updates, that is not necessary for a police agency to gain a reputation for corruption and incompetence, a reputation that existed long before the Erik Scott shooting on July 10, 2010, long before I posted my first article on the case on September 21, 2010, and a reputation that continues and has arguably worsened since.

What this case demonstrates above all is a pattern of institutional neglect and corruption. Metro appears to be an organization that not only hires questionable officers, but supports and protects them in actions that would at the very least result in severe discipline in professional agencies, and most likely would result in firing. Officers like Colling do not just suddenly explode one day after years of highly professional conduct. Surely his peers and supervisors knew–and know–his potential for irrational violence so amply demonstrated in the Crooks case? It would be instructive indeed to know Officer Colling’s entire history with Metro. Unfortunately, violent incidents, incidents of unprofessional, abusive behavior, would be unlikely to be included in official records. Colling’s criminal attack on Crooks is merely one of far too many examples of abusive, unprofessional, dangerous and even deadly behavior by Metro officers.

We will continue to follow this case and report on its eventual disposition. It may be instructive to take the link to the Las Vegas Tribune editorial relating to Metro’s management and reputation. Metro’s reputation is well known and is becoming more so.

THE NAPO AND QUESTIONABLE HEROISM:

As I noted in Update 11, Officers Mosher and Stark were awarded honorable mentions in the annual NAPO TOP COP program. This occurred because the head of the Metro police union, Chris Collins, is the Sgt. At Arms of that organization, and recommended them for that honor, obviously taking care to see that it was accomplished. And for what were they awarded this distinction? The shooting of Erik Scott.

Collins arrogantly announced the award at a legislative committee hearing on a bill that would have allowed the Clark County DA or Coroner–exclusively the Clark County DA or Coroner (in the entire state of Nevada)–to decide whether to hold an inquest in any police shooting. Collins miscalculated. There is substantial evidence to suggest that his ill-conceived action doomed the bill then and there, and has ensured that it has no hope in the future. I’ve come to understand that this kind of arrogant disdain for the public is common with the PPA and with Mr. Collins, and I’ve documented it in past updates.

I sent the following e-mail to the NAPO on April 17:

Sirs:

Good day.  I recently learned that your organization awarded an honorable mention to two Las Vegas Metro officers, Joshua Stark and William Mosher, for their part in the shooting death of Erik Scott in July of 2010.  It appears that your Sergeant-at-Arms, Chris Collins, made the nomination that resulted in that award.

I’d like to bring to your attention information that might cause you to reconsider that choice, and hope that you might consider it seriously.  There is very good reason to believe that their part in the incident for which they are being honored is not worthy of that honor, not the least of which is that it is currently under litigation.

May I suggest that you visit this article:  http://confederateyankee.mu.nu/#314865

It is part of an archive of my writings on this case, which should raise reasonable suspicion about what actually happened.  Did you know, for example, that one of the three officers who shot and killed Erik Scott was, only months later, arrested for giving a firearm to a felon?  Did you know that Off. Mosher, prior to the Scott shooting, had been involved, in a short time, in two shootings, one resulting in the death of a citizen and one a wounding?

As a veteran of nearly two decades of police service, I urge you to carefully consider this situation.  I suspect that you’ll find, as have I, that at the very least, it would be unwise to pronounce these officers heroic, unwise and damaging to the reputation of your organization. There are more than enough examples of undisputed, unblemished police heroism out there.

I suspect that it will not be a surprise to readers to learn that the NAPO has not responded [NOTE: It never responded] and that as of the posting of this article, Officers Mosher and Stark are yet listed as honorees on the NAPO website. As I mentioned in my e-mail, this “honor” would seem to be, at the very least, premature. That the NAPO would issue such an honor under these conditions does not speak well of its integrity and dedication to recognizing and rewarding actual heroism and excellence.

THE CONTINUING TROUBLES OF THOMAS MENDIOLA:

Having been suspended from duty for some time, Officer Mendiola was formally indicted on May 13. The affidavit supporting the indictment indicates that Mendiola admitted knowingly giving a firearm to a man he knew to be a felon–prohibited from gun ownership–and that he actually discussed his felon status with the man who acknowledged that he was a felon. Mendiola will likely be arraigned May 26.

As I noted in Update 10, this situation presents many interesting issues. Normally, it would be expected that any officer in Mendiola’s situation–facing a civil action that has the potential to shake Metro to its core–would enjoy a significant degree of protection, protection that is routinely afforded Metro officers–some 200 in the last decade alone–who kill citizens. That the offense with which he has been charged came to light during an undercover investigation is likewise interesting and unusual.

If it was Metro’s intention to protect Mendiola, there would have been no reason that his actions had to be made public. Metro is well practiced at keeping such things under wraps, after all. That they were made public would seem to indicate that Metro made a conscious decision to abandon Mendiola. The question is why?

Did Metro come to believe that Mendiola might be willing to stray from the official version of events in the Scott case? Did more subtle means of getting him back on the reservation fail? Was his arrest a more obvious attempt to force him back into the fold, and if we take for granted that it did not have the desired effect, was his actual indictment yet another, more forceful attempt to obtain the desired result, the desired testimony? Or does Metro intend to cut him loose entirely?

This would seem an unwise thing to do as Mendiola might cause Metro considerable damage. On the other hand, it has been established that he was washed out of the Metro Police Academy on his first try and allowed a second chance. The circumstances of this remain unknown, but Metro might well use this–as well as any number of other negative allegations–to discredit any testimony Mendiola might potentially give. They would have to admit some degree of error in hiring and retaining Mendiola, but to some, that might seem to be an honest admission and an attempt to clean up Metro, starting with one of its least experienced and lowest ranking members. But its best weapon would be the ability to paint Mendiola as a disgruntled, disgraced cop, a cop who is actually a convicted felon. After all, who is a jury going to believe, two cops awarded national honors for their “heroism” or a convicted felon, screw-up ex-cop with an ax to grind? Of course, when it’s time for depositions or testimony, Thomas Mendiola might just become–should we say–hard to find. Mr. Mendiola might wish to consider his options with some care and with some rapidity.

It is, of course, always possible that in this case, Metro is behaving properly and enforcing the law by the book. As I earlier mentioned, every Metro officer is certainly not corrupt and everything Metro does is likewise not corrupt. However, there is more than enough precedence for corrupt practice in Metro history, and certainly in its present operations.

To the degree that one might have pity in their heart for the Metro officers involved in the Scott case, Thomas Mendiola might end up to be deserving of some small portion. Still, his troubles seem to be largely of his own making.

THE CONTINUING INQUEST SAGA:

Update 10.3 outlines the latest on the inquest saga. However, it has been reported that on May 9, a pre-inquest meeting was held with the representatives of the family of Benjamin Bowman, killed by Metro officers in November, 2010. This is apparently one of two scheduled meetings (under the new inquest rules adopted in January) during which families are afforded some degree of discovery of the evidence. The Bowman case is the first to be initiated under the new rules.

Regular readers will recall that Metro officers, through Chris Collins, their PPA chief, have explicitly stated that they will not cooperate with inquests, will not testify, and/or will take the 5th. The inquest process in the Bowman case has not yet reached that point, but should the involved officers refuse to testify or properly cooperate, it will indicate clearly that Metro is at war with the public, and that Las Vegas police officers will accept no accountability to the public for their actions, particularly when those actions result in the deaths of citizens.

At the moment, Sheriff Gillespie and DA Roger seem to have no intention of demanding that Metro officers do their jobs and testify about their official actions as officers do routinely every day across the nation. Update 10.3 explains in substantial detail why this is a very serious matter indeed.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

As I mentioned earlier, the Colling case is just one of a great many similar cases in Las Vegas. If I wished, I could write about such cases, easily, on a weekly–indeed, a more frequent–basis. The police deserve the support and appreciation of the public, but only if they take daily pains to make it clear that they serve the public. Metro apparently does quite the opposite. If, following the Erik Scott shooting, no similar cases occurred, if the kinds of bizarre, unprofessional incidents that have become routine in Las Vegas had not come to light, I would likely still have considered the Scott case to be outrageous, a bad shoot, but would have thought it to be the exception rather than the rule, and my coverage of the case would surely have taken a very different, and far less voluminous, turn. As one who knows how a police organization should–must–work and relate to the citizenry, I can say without equivocation I would never live in or visit Las Vegas. It would be impossible for me to trust its police.

Even those who believe the Scott case to be justified–and some, with good will and without, certainly do–must surely be concerned by the patterns I’ve outlined in these many pages. If not, it would seem that they share the mindset of that minority of Metro cops who are apparently not professional, who are seemingly corrupt, and who have painted the entire organization in very unflattering colors indeed. For it is not, you see, the big offenses that begin and ensure continuing, growing corruption, but the small things, the hundreds of cut corners, minor thefts, usurpations of legal authority, petty abuses, that have a cumulative effect, a deadening, numbing effect, and that not only allow, but ensure greater and greater corruption, corruption that, in a life-and-death business, inevitably leads to the deaths of innocents.

Lord Action was right: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Corruption, however, is not omnipotent. It can be defeated, and corrupt organizations can be remade. The Erik Scott case might serve as a turning point, an opportunity for individual and organizational redemption. But that will ultimately be up to the citizens of Las Vegas, the citizens who recently re-elected Doug Gillespie to run Metro.

 

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