Professional police agencies have a field training program. It is the final phase of a new officer’s formal training. When they enter the program, they have completed all state mandated academy training and/or any basic training mandated by their local agency. It’s like entering the senior year of high school. They know the institutional ropes to at least some degree. The field training program is their senior year, their preparation for college, their real education, on the streets.
Such programs commonly consist of three phases, each supervised by a different experienced officer. As the new officer works his or her way through the program, they are given more and more responsibility. A report is written each and every day about their performance. In the final phase, their supervising officer wears plain clothing and speaks or intervenes only to avoid imminent disaster.
Among the most important duties of field training officers (FTOs) is to assess a new officer’s mental and emotional stability. Are they paranoid? Do they have an “us against them” mentality? Are they too quick to resort to force, and when they do, can they control it, use it properly? In professional agencies, unstable recruits are either transformed or fired. The goal is to produce officers that are observant, rational, reasonable, dedicated and competent.
In my investigation into the Erik Scott killing, I’ve found cause to wonder about Metro’s training and to despair the very humanity of its supervisors and leaders.
This article will focus on three primary issues:
(1) Updates of several cases I’ve been following in this series, conclusive updates in three;
(2) A review and analysis of the five-part Las Vegas Review Journal series on Metro; and
(3) An update on the Federal “COPS” inquiry into Metro shootings, such as it is.
Colling Case Update: As regular readers will recall, I last wrote of the case of Metro Officer Derek Colling in Update 11.2. Colling is the Metro officer who brutally and without cause beat local resident Mitchell Crooks (there’s an ironic name) for the unforgivable crime of videotaping, from his driveway, Metro officers engaged in what was apparently routine and unremarkable police business. After cruelly beating, handcuffing and repeatedly taunting and threatening Crooks, Colling lodged false charges against him and repeatedly lied in his reports.
The “investigation” into Colling’s behavior drug on for eight months until Colling was finally fired in December of 2012. In the meantime, Crooks filed a lawsuit and Metro eventually agreed to pay him $100,000.
ANALYSIS: This case is remarkable—yet par for the course for Metro—for several reasons. On the night of March 20, 2011, former Metro Officer Colling had two killings of citizens under his belt before meeting Mitchell Crooks. An extraordinarily large number of Metro officers have shot and/or killed not one, but more citizens. As I’ve previously written, having any number of officers who have shot and killed people on a given police force is unusual. Most agencies have no one in that category. In Metro, it’s commonplace.
Likely the only reason the false charges against Crooks were dropped and Colling was eventually fired was that Crooks’ videocamera kept recording Colling’s brutaiity after Colling knocked it from Crooks’ hands as his attack began. Why Colling didn’t destroy or disappear the camera remains something of a mystery. Destruction and manipulation of evidence is far from foreign to Metro. I suspect it was because of the pervasive individual and institutional arrogance I’ve found in following the misadventures of Metro. It amazes and disgusts me still. They really do believe they’re above the law and untouchable. For the most part, they’ve been right about that, but this particular oversight cost Officer Colling his job and the taxpayers of Las Vegas a tenth of a million dollars.
The length of time it took to fire Colling is likewise amazing. In such cases, it would have taken a professional police agency no more than a month to fire such an officer, and likely much less. Colling demonstrated incredible and unrestrained brutality in attacking and continually threatening a citizen without provocation. He filed false charges against him, and lied on official documents–his reports. Any one of those offenses would have been sufficient for firing in a professional agency. How could such an officer ever again be trusted? Ultimately, police officers have only their credibility. Lose that and their value to the criminal justice system and the community is gone. And of course, any officer that cannot be trusted to properly use force is an incredible liability.
Why did it take so long? This too is common with Metro. The PPA is, of course, partly to blame. But the institutional culture of Metro is such that Colling was likely fired only when it finally dawned on Sheriff Gillespie that:
(1) the case would not go away;
(2) there would have to be yet another substantial taxpayer cash payout (Metro is doing a great deal of that these days) to a victim of Metro violence and malfeasance;
(3) there was no way to adequately cover up Colling’s crimes and:
(4) Colling was too much of a liability for even Metro—he would do it again and this case generated too much notoriety for keeping him around to be tenable. Ultimately, even the PPA couldn’t save him.
Another significant issue to keep in mind is the lack of proper supervision in Metro. In virtually every case I’ve investigated during my writings about Erik’s Scott’s killing, first and second line supervisors—Sergeants and Lieutenants—seem either completely absent or actively participate in wrong-doing and cover ups—when they’re not themselves the instigators of wrong doing. This state of affairs is precisely the opposite of the way things are done in professional agencies, where first line supervisors are the single most important people in maintaining the discipline and ethical standards of their agencies.
Densley Case Update: In Update 10 I wrote about the case of Sgt. Darrin Densley—a 22 year Metro veteran–who on January 12, 2011, came within inches of killing an innocent man. That the man lived was only a matter of poor marksmanship and dumb luck. In that case, for reasons that remain unknown, Densley accosted and pointed his handgun at 22 year old Leonard Greer who, with several friends, had walked past Densley and three other Metro officers dealing with something that remains unexplained at the apartment complex where Greer lived. Greer, seated in his car with several friends when Densley felt the need to point his handgun at him, calmly produced documentary proof that he lived in the complex, and when he did both of his hands clearly visible on the steering wheel of his vehicle, Densley fired a single round that fortunately struck Greer’s car door just below the window. It did not penetrate the door and no one was injured. Several inches higher and Greer would have been hit, perhaps killed.
Densley—remember that he is an experienced supervisor—immediately compounded his near-deadly mistake by illegally searching Greer’s car and apartment in an apparent attempt to find something with which to charge Greer, but found nothing at all, so he cited Greer for obstructing a police officer. The charge was soon dismissed and Metro offered to pay for the damage to Greer’s car. The Metro Use Of Force Review Board cleared Densley. A recent Las Vegas Review-Journal article—part of the five part series reviewed here–on that board and its rubber-stamping of unjustifiable police violence is available here.
ANALYSIS: As I noted in Update 10, this case has many parallels with the Scott case. Having nearly killed a man for no reason, Densley, without cause, searched Greer’s car and home and found nothing. This was also done in the Scott case, also without cause. And of course, Densley, like the three officers involved in the Scott shooting, was ruled blameless by a review board established to always produce that result.
This is just one of many examples of incompetence, criminality and cover up so common in daily Metro operations.
Former DA David Roger Update: The LVRJ posted a January 05, 2012 story with an unsurprising announcement: Roger was appointed general counsel of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association.
‘I’ve spent 25 years working with police officers, and I look forward to a new career representing them,’ Roger said.
Chris Collins, the union’s executive director, said, ‘His experience and legal skills will be an invaluable asset to the men and women who have chosen law enforcement as their careers.
Analysis: Roger is the DA under whose supervision the Erik Scott inquest was conducted. No Metro officers were charged with killing citizens during his tenure. He retired to take the union job with three years remaining on his final term in office.
He will surely be comfortable in his new role, and will no doubt be making a great deal more money. One might reasonably argue that he will now merely be doing overtly what he has been doing under the radar for many years: ensuring that Metro officers are shielded from the consequences of their illegal, unjustifiable actions at all costs.
The Stanley Gibson Case: On December 13, 2011, Gibson became the 12th Las Vegas citizen killed by Metro police that year—a new record. As the LVRJ reported Gibson, a 43 year old decorated military veteran and PTSD sufferer was off his medication and confused. Trying to find his new apartment, he instead ended up in an apartment complex several blocks away. When Metro responded, they eventually pinned his car between several Metro vehicles, surrounded him and a 30 minute attempt to get him to surrender began.
Gibson was apparently confused and was spinning the tires of his trapped and motionless car. He was going nowhere and was not threatening anyone. Officers intended to use a beanbag round to break one of the windows of Gibson’s vehicle with the intention of filling the car with pepper spray to force him to get out. When an officer fired the beanbag round, Officer Jesus Arevalo, a 9-year Metro officer, for reasons that remain unknown, fired seven rounds from an AR-15 rifle, striking the unarmed Gibson in the head and killing him. Arevalo is, at the time of the posting of this article, still employed by Metro, despite reportedly refusing to cooperate with Metro investigators.
Gibson’s mother, Celestine, has filed a lawsuit against Metro according to a May 29, 2012 LVRJ story. Clark County Criminal Cops also has a recent story on the case: Video of the confrontation and shooting is available here.
Analysis: In this particular case, there were so many witnesses and even video shot by a witness–video that went viral shortly after the death of Gibson (thank goodness for the Internet)—that Metro could not cover up the shooting. From what is currently known, it appears that the officers on the scene badly handled the situation from the beginning and Arevalo either wasn’t informed of what the others were doing, or simply fired—seven rounds–for reasons known only to him. What is clear is that Gibson pose no threat to anyone and there was no known cause even to arrest Gibson.
Sadly, this kind of killing is not unusual for Metro. As I’ve often written, not every Metro officer is incompetent or supportive of such unprofessional, even deadly, behavior. A December 18, 2011 LVRJ article featured anonymous comments from Metro officers. Some excerpts:
It was just a terrible plan’ he [a veteran Metro supervisor] said. ‘And it’s frustrating because it was such a bad plan. Even if that plan works, it’s a stupid decision.’
‘A veteran patrol officer summed up the thoughts of many within the department.
‘It was a terrible shooting,’ the officer said. ‘Nobody said it’s a good shooting. … Comments were made that this is the one that is going to bring in the feds.’
The same officer also said:
…excessive use of deadly force is not a problem within the department, but certain shootings ‘raised eyebrows,’ such as last year’s controversial shootings of Erik Scott and Cole.
The officer said there is a mentality, especially among younger officers, of resorting to the gun sooner rather than later. Older officers tend to use less lethal force and more hand-to-hand combat.
Sources have indicated that there is a general feeling in Metro that the Scott shooting was a bad shoot and the officers involved, particularly William Mosher, are isolated.
THE REVIEW JOURNAL FIVE PART SERIES: Review and Analysis
On November 27, 2011 the Review Journal published the first in a five part series of Metro’s shootings. I have been quite critical of the RJ’s coverage of the Scott case, and while this series did not substantially change my opinion of the RJ’s Scott case coverage, it did reveal a great deal about Metro that was previously unknown and confirmed a great deal that has become apparent to me about the horribly dysfunctional and deadly institutional culture of Metro. I recommend it to those who have not read the series. I’ll confine my writing to those parts that are particularly revealing of the reality of Metro and which indicate why Erik Scott’s death was inevitable, as are the deaths of many in the future if Metro is not completely revamped.
The article begins with these revealing statistics:
Las Vegas Valley police have been involved in 378 shootings since 1990, 142 of them fatal. One agency alone, the Metropolitan Police Department, was responsible for 310 shootings and 115 deaths.
The case of Officer Gregg Pease is particularly chilling:
Shortly before midnight on a warm night in May 1996, officer George “Gregg” Pease pulled his Las Vegas police cruiser into the desert behind a storage yard off Dean Martin Drive. In his car was a notebook with the name Henry Rowe scrawled inside.
Both men had seen their share of recent troubles. Rowe, 50, was living in a wash behind the building. Pease, 31, dogged by controversy in his eight years with the Metropolitan Police Department, had killed two men in 21 months and had been disciplined for seeing a prostitute while off-duty.
Banished to the graveyard shift in the Southwest Area Command, Pease was hunting for Rowe. He got out of his patrol car, stepped into the pitch-black night and walked into the wash, alone.
Minutes later, Rowe was dead, shot once in the head, his throat slashed ear to ear.
Pease’s third officer-involved shooting echoed the others: Peculiar circumstances. An account that didn’t quite make sense. A killing with no witnesses.
Though widely criticized within the department’s ranks, the killing of Henry Rowe didn’t amount to much.
A Clark County coroner’s inquest jury would rule it justified, and the Metropolitan Police Department’s internal Use of Force Review Board would find nothing to fault. Pease took a few weeks of paid time off and returned to work with a gun and a badge. The same script has been followed 114 times after fatal shootings, some clear-cut and some not, at the hands of Las Vegas cops since 1990. This year Las Vegas police have set a record: 11 fatal shootings, with a month left to go [they would end the year with 12, a new record].
The system never questioned whether Henry Rowe’s death could have been prevented.
It never adequately questioned whether any of them could have been prevented.
Pease would remain with Metro, getting in to additional trouble, until he resigned in 2005 when investigated for theft.
Professional officers around the nation reading this article were surely picking their jaws up off the floor—just as I was–after reading about Pease. The idea that an officer could possibly explain how he not only slashed a man’s throat from ear to ear,” but also shot him in the head, is absolutely incredible. That such an officer would be cleared and continue to work, particularly after already being involved in two killings in just 21 months, is surreal, so different is the reality of professional policing in the rest of American compared to Las Vegas. But with this kind of obviously criminal behavior not only being tolerated, but allowed to repeat, it is not hard to understand how the killing of Erik Scott occurred and was covered up.
The article also revealed:
* Clark County police shootings have increased from two in 1990 to 31 in 2010, 25 involving Metro.
* During that same period, violent crime has continually decreased, in America and Las Vegas.
* The FBI does not keep police shooting statistics and they are not available elsewhere, but apparently, Metro is third in the nation per capita in police shootings. Only Houston and Chicago shoot more citizens.
* The RJ’s only significant mention of the Scott shooting—apart from a brief mention of Officer Thomas Mendiola’s legal troubles–was that it caused “outrage” in the community and lead to “…a sweeping overhaul of the Clark County Coroner’s inquest system.”
* Few survivors of Metro shooting victims file lawsuits and fewer win.
* Metro knows who problem officers are, but does little or nothing to deal with them and protect the public.
* Entire academy classes of Metro officers are widely known as serious problems.
This article provided substantial statistical information on the nature of Metro shootings. I found the sheer numbers and kinds of situations staggering, such as this:
On occasion, the perceptions of Las Vegas officers are wrong.
On April 19, 2000, officer Nathan Chio stopped a car near Pecos Road and Las Vegas Boulevard because the registered owner was wanted on a felony parole violation. After ordering the driver, Kendrick Weatherspoon, out of the car, Chio, a four-year veteran cop, saw what he believed to be someone moving under a pile of clothes in the back seat. He shouted at the person to get out, and fired twice into the pile when something fell to the floor.
There was no one under the laundry.
Chio was, of course, cleared by Metro and is still on the force. It’s unknown if he was disciplined at all.
‘My 5-year-old son could have been in the back seat,’ Weatherspoon said. ‘I never got an explanation for what (Chio) did. I never even got paid for the bullet hole in my car.’
Wayne Peterson, a homicide lieutenant at the time, called the shooting one of the most troubling he ever saw.
‘How could you shoot in a pile of clothes?’ he said. ‘Thank God nobody got hit.’
This was the article’s take on the Scott shooting:
For every unarmed person shot at by Las Vegas police, nine had some kind of weapon, usually a gun. However, about half of the subjects armed with guns never fired a shot.
That was the case in one of the most controversial shootings in recent memory, when Erik Scott, 38, a medical device salesman, was killed as he left a crowded Costco store in affluent Summerlin on July 10, 2010.
Like 70 percent of those killed by police, Scott was under the influence of alcohol or drugs — heavy doses of prescription pain pills for a back injury. But he wasn’t accused of any crime. A store employee thought he was acting strangely and dialed 911 when he saw that Scott, who had a concealed weapons permit, had a holstered gun and refused to leave the store.
Three Las Vegas officers — William Mosher, Thomas Mendiola, and Joshua Stark — said they fired because Scott didn’t follow orders to get on the ground and instead pulled the still-holstered gun from his waistband. Inquest witnesses testified that Scott appeared dazed and may not have realized he was doing something that would be perceived as a threat. The shooting was ruled justified, but it still prompted debate about whether police could have resolved the situation without resorting to deadly force.
The article also spoke of “Crisis Intervention Training” which was supposed to help officers better deal with people and reduce the number of shootings. William Mosher—the first to fire two rounds into Erik Scott—was a CIT officer. Erik Scott was the third person he shot as a Metro officer and the second he killed.
The series continued to paint a very disturbing portrait of Metro as an agency that is actively aware of an extraordinary number of dangerous officers, people who had actually killed citizens—often multiple citizens–under very suspicious circumstances, yet they are always cleared and continue to work for Metro.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie was not quick to acknowledge problems:
Asked whether he thinks his department uses deadly force more often than others, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said he’s never seen reliable data to allow a comparison to other departments.
‘I’ve always said that one officer-involved shooting is too many,’ Gillespie said. ‘Whatever we can do to prevent those acts from occurring, we have an obligation to do.’
Those familiar with Metro will recognize this as common Gillespie spin. He often seems open to change and to problem solving, but changes don’t occur and problem officers continue to kill.
The article begins:
Police records show that the department’s Use of Force Review Board, which is designed to weed out problem cops and spotlight deficiencies in training and tactics, finds no errors in 97 percent of all shootings it reviews, and has never faulted a cop in a fatal incident.
How bad is it?
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie acknowledges his department’s shooting review process is flawed.
A former police officer who served on the board offered a less diplomatic description: ‘It’s just a crock.’
Former officers also expressed their opinions:
‘I always thought there were too many shootings,’ said Bill Keeton, who investigated them as a Las Vegas homicide sergeant before he retired.
Asked whether he thought the Las Vegas Valley had too many shootings, former Sheriff Bill Young, now head of security for Station Casinos, said, ‘More than what I’d like, and more than almost all our citizens and more than most police officers obviously like.’
The article speaks to the fact that Metro fails to fully address problems, even on the rare occasions when it actually recognizes and addresses them. Twenty five percent of Metro shootings occur after foot pursuits, and Metro did adopt a policy to deal with it, but made it optional rather than mandatory.
Despite his occasional rhetoric about reform, Gillespie’s actions speak otherwise:
On the rare occasion the [Use of Force Review] board finds poor judgment or violation of regulations, the offending cop has little to fear. After taking office in 2007, Gillespie dramatically reduced penalties short of dismissal to a maximum of 40 hours unpaid suspension. Officers can opt to forfeit a week’s vacation, instead.
The article’s sole mention of the Scott Case conformed to Metro’s narrative:
The department performed a tactical review of the Scott shooting that included an officer’s decision to tell the Costco manager to evacuate the crowded store, causing hundreds of people to funnel out one exit. As Scott and his girlfriend went out the door, three other officers pointed their guns at him, ordered him to the ground and then shot him when he pulled out a holstered handgun he legally carried. All seven shots hit Scott and no one else was injured, but critics questioned whether the evacuation order and shooting in a crowded area endangered the public more than Scott’s prescription drug-induced odd behavior, which had unnerved a store employee.
‘That’s one of those conclusions where there’s not necessarily a right or a wrong,’ Gillespie said of the decision to evacuate the store. ‘(If) Erik Scott would have listened to what the officers said, it would have ended considerably different than it did, but he chose not to.’
Hmm. “…there’s not necessary a right or a wrong.” Option one: leave a man who is not actually threatening anyone inside a store while officers approach and speak with him, or; Option two: send hundreds of people in a crowd streaming out a single entrance, and engage in an unnecessary, panicky shoot fest in the middle of that crowd of innocents. Yes. I can see why Sheriff Gillespie would have trouble seeing which is the safest option.
From the moment the three Metro officers that killed him turned their attention—and their handguns—to him and began to scream contradictory orders, Erik Scott had two seconds to comply before Mosher’s first round struck him. Whatever he did, including standing stock still, would still have resulted in his death. All choice was on the part of the officers.
One interesting—and absolutely horrifying—fact the article exposed was that Metro has essentially no civilian oversight:
The department is unusual among American urban police agencies in that it operates largely on its own. A joint city-county committee sets the budget, and a Citizen Review Board with little authority reviews some citizen complaints, but no outside entity monitors policy or day-to-day management by the elected sheriff. That’s especially true for hot-button issues such as use of deadly force.
Virtually every other law enforcement agency in America has strict citizen oversight. Police departments are directly accountable to a city council and/or mayor/administrator for not only their budget, but every aspect of their operations. Sheriff’s departments are strictly accountable to county commissions for their budgets and every aspect of their operations, and despite the fact that sheriffs are elected, the power of the purse is great indeed. With this reality in mind, it’s easy to see why Metro does not change: There is no one more powerful than Gillespie—who is an elected official accountable only to voters every four year—and no one to whom he answers. The article observed that due to the transient nature of Las Vegas, there is little or no interest in Sheriff elections, which are always won in landslides.
The Metro Use of Force Review Board was also sharply criticized—by its former members:
‘It’s just a crock,’ said Barbara Kowalczyk, who moved to Las Vegas after retiring from the Detroit Police Department and served as a review board civilian member from 2004 to 2008. ‘They try to make you think that they are doing something, but it’s a crock.’
Officers have appeared before the board 510 times, as of May . Department records show the board ruled in favor of the officer 497 times — a 97 percent clearance rate.
Not once has the board ruled against an officer in a fatal shooting.
Rod Jett, former undersheriff, noted:
‘In my opinion, the board lost its ability to objectively look at the facts of the case, even with civilians on the board, because civilians who would question whether or not an officer’s actions were appropriate were often challenged or told they didn’t have the expertise to even have an opinion,’ Jett said. ‘And also during those periods when we had commissioned officers on the board who had the character and the courage to raise issues as to whether or not the actions of the officer were appropriate, those individual officers were attacked.’
In law enforcement, peer pressure can be particularly powerful. It’s not wise to alienate people who might, at any minute, be called upon to save your life. A former board member was concerned about the contamination of witness testimony:
Citizen member Will Watson, who served from 1991 to 1993, said he had concerns when officers were allowed to sit next to each other and listen to each others’ testimony during hearings.
‘It seemed to be skewed in favor of police,’ he said.
Another board member spoke to the lack of a real investigation:
Robert Kainen, who served from 2004 to 2008, said shooting investigations weren’t thorough enough.
‘You’re not presented with any other side, other than the report from the police officers, and my feeling from reading the reports was that the questions from the detectives were made in such a way to produce a kind of response that would be the most positive for the police department,’ Kainen said. ‘There were no lies, as far as I could tell, but the questions weren’t as probing as I thought they could be.’
Regular readers familiar with Update 14, Update 14.2 and Update 14.3 wherein I analyzed the internal interviews of the officers involved in killing Erik Scott know precisely what Kainen is saying. Their interviews were focused entirely on protecting the officers and Metro rather than obtaining the truth. An upcoming update will focus on the statements of Metro’s handpicked civilian witnesses, how little their statements actually support the Metro narrative, and how they were unethically manipulated.
When a citizen in Clark County kills someone, prosecutors are there from the start of the investigation, often looking over the shoulder of detectives even before the body is moved. They’ll follow the investigation, give advice and screen the case to determine what charges to file after an arrest.
But when a police officer kills someone, prosecutors are nowhere to be found. They just read the detective’s report as they prepare for a coroner’s inquest, at times using the information to put the actions of the police in the best possible light…
The newspaper also found striking differences in the way Clark County prosecutors handle deaths at the hands of police and how they deal with other homicides. Chief among them: The district attorney won’t review an officer’s use of deadly force unless the head of the police agency requests it.
Again, those who have been following the Scott case here at SMM will not experience the slightest surprise at this finding. Then DA David Roger tried to spin the issue:
David Roger, Clark County’s district attorney since 2002, acknowledges that he doesn’t treat officer-involved shootings like other homicides.
‘We review it in preparation for the inquest,’ said Roger, who earlier this month announced that he will leave office in January. He has an informal job offer from the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the Metropolitan Police Department’s rank-and-file officers union.
‘If something stands out in our mind that there’s additional investigation that is necessary, we have the opportunity to either send out our own investigator or ask the homicide detectives to go back and investigate,’ Roger said. ‘Or if we believe that it’s criminal, we can move a different direction and not proceed through an inquest.’
At least that’s the theory. It hasn’t happened that way in more than 30 years.
The deference paid to police is even more dramatic in cases where an officer shoots but only wounds or misses entirely. In those incidents, the district attorney looks at the case only if the shooting subject is being prosecuted.
What this means, for all practical purposes, is that in Las Vegas, the Police Department investigates itself and determines whether any of its officers will be prosecuted. Unsurprisingly, Metro’s investigations of Metro virtually always find that Metro is blameless. One would think that the law of averages–one law with which Las Vegas is intimately familiar–would dictate the need for the occasional prosecution, but not in Las Vegas and Clark County. The DA has the authority to prosecute police misconduct. He simply chooses not do to so.
The Erik Scott shooting was again mentioned, but only in the context of that particular inquest serving as impetus for change, change that has never gone into effect due to resistance by the PPA and a complete lack of action on Gillespie’s part.
The killing of [Trevon] Cole — a black, small-time marijuana dealer from a low-end neighborhood — was one of the two controversial shootings that prompted last year’s overhaul of the inquest process.
The other involved Erik Scott, 38, an affluent, white salesman and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who was shot and killed by three police officers at a Summerlin Costco store. Scott’s killing received far more attention, in part because his media-savvy family and friends kept pressure on politicians to address long-simmering complaints about the inquest system and police shootings.
‘Remember, this is nothing but theater,’ Bill Scott, a writer and former Air Force officer, said shortly before the inquest last year. ‘This is reality TV, and the sole purpose of this is not fact finding. It is to exonerate three cops who killed my son.’
The jury’s verdict was unanimous: justified. Scott declined comment for this article because his family’s wrongful death lawsuit is pending.
The Scott’s federal lawsuit was recently dropped, but as I noted on June 8 the Scott family has reinstituted an earlier dropped lawsuit in state court against Costco. This suit promises to deal with essentially the same issues as the earlier suit, and Metro and the PPA are reported in a panic. They have more than sufficient reason to be.
The remainder of this part of the series is apparently an attempt at balance on the part of the RJ. It deals with the difficulties officers—and the surviving family of one Metro victim—have in dealing with killing others.
Denver had seen its share of controversial police shootings, but Paul Childs’ was different.
He was 15 and mentally disabled. He loved cops, his family said, and would never hurt anyone.
When he threatened his mom with a kitchen knife one day in July 2003, his sister called the police. A handful of Denver Police officers showed up. In minutes the teen was dead.
In the days and months that followed, hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil, famed lawyer Johnnie Cochran filed a lawsuit, and activists called for change.
John Hickenlooper, then Denver’s mayor, announced sweeping reforms aimed at restoring public confidence in the city police. He pushed his plan through the City Council and got enough votes to change the city charter to create a more transparent and open system of police oversight than most cities ever see.
In the years after those reforms took effect, officer-involved shootings in Denver, while still significant, fell by more than 25 percent.
‘Effective and robust civilian oversight has to be a critical component of any law enforcement agency,’ Hickenlooper once said of reforms such as creation of an independent police monitor.
“Effective and robust civilian oversight” is precisely what Metro lacks. The article expands on the effective methods used by other cities. These methods, common across the nation, rely on strong civilian oversight. Without it, human nature—particularly cop nature—virtually ensures the kind of abuses that occur so often in Metro.
The remainder of the article speaks of “non-lethal” weapon alternatives available to the police, such as Tasers, which Metro officers have often abused. It ends with a brief section on the lack of support available to the surviving family members of Metro killings.
An RJ editorial published on 12-02-12 spoke to necessary reforms, but primarily belabored the obvious. It ended with these paragraphs:
Sheriff Doug Gillespie didn’t create these problems. But leadership demands that he address them to reduce shootings. More rigorous training would help, as would a transparent, outside review process that isn’t a rubber stamp. Department findings and discipline must not be kept secret.
But the sheriff also must more aggressively confront problem officers and use his bully pulpit to call out their union if it insists on protecting the worst of the worst.
It took a five part series to figure that out?
A December 11, 2011 RJ article spoke to the desirability of a federal investigation of Metro. It began:
When Miami police shot and killed eight people in 16 months, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated.
When Portland, Ore., police shot and killed five people over 18 months, there was a federal investigation.
Las Vegas police have shot 15 people dead in the past 18 months.
There is no federal investigation.
Not quite true today, but more on that shortly.
In publishing the five part series, the Review Journal was hardly courageously serving the needs of the public. It, like many other agencies and concerns in Las Vegas, was responding—slowly and grudgingly—to the insistent drumbeat of public outrage pushed to the forefront of public consciousness by Erik Scott’s killing. There is no question that this series exposed even larger portions of the public to Metro’s pervasive institutional corruption, and for that, it deserves credit, but the RJ still doesn’t get it.
Its reporters concluded—rightfully—that Metro has, for decades, with the collusion of a corrupt prosecutor’s office and feckless local politicians, run what is in many instances, a criminal enterprise, a police department justly feared and hated by Las Vegas citizens. Yet in its few and surface mentions of the Scott case, takes a “just the facts, Ma’am,” tone, treating the Metro version of events as Gospel. On one hand, Metro is corrupt, its officers killers and liars, its Sheriff quick to mouth meaningless platitudes and very slow to enact real reform, but on the other, whatever it says about the Scott case is printed without question by the RJ—oh yes, except the Scott case was controversial (let’s not bother the readers with the trivial facts about why) and caused some changes in the inquest procedure, changes which have never come to pass because the same system has allowed the PPA to bring the entire inquest process to a standstill, probably because they share the same goals.
I’m mentioning this for the first time: since I began my work on the Scott case, I have, on at least three occasions, e-mailed information and links to RJ reporters at the e-mail addresses listed on the RJ contact site. I’ve given them tips and encouraged them to follow them up. They have never responded to me, and have never, to my knowledge, followed up on anything I provided. Considering the way the RJ has generally handled the Scott case, this is hardly surprising. One possible reason is that many people in the traditional media consider mere bloggers to be beneath their notice—they are, after all, “real” journalists—and we’ve seen how well that’s worked out for them, as bloggers often beat them to major stories and cover them with far more depth and insight.
The federal government has been involved—sort of—with Metro. On the second day of the RJ five part series, the DOJ announced a review of Metro’s shooting by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS—yes, irony abounds). Those conducting the review have no actual authority to change anything, however. A February 12, 2012 RJ article noted:
The COPS review, which is expected to take at least six months, came about in November, on the second day of a five-part Review-Journal series highlighting how Las Vegas police shot at people more often than other departments did and how police were reluctant to learn from their shootings and hold officers accountable for mistakes.
The head of the COPS office called Gillespie and suggested his team come out and review Las Vegas police policies and procedures. The COPS office had never done such a thorough review of a department and was looking to start somewhere, the COPS director said last week.
At the end of the review, the COPS office will issue a public report that could include recommendations and areas for improvement. The study also might be used as a clearinghouse of ‘best practices’ that other departments can use.
But the review will be contingent upon what kind of access the COPS researchers can get from the Metropolitan Police Department — and what the department wants them to study. COPS Director Bernard Melekian said last week that had not been decided.
However, the article also noted:
Federal authorities will wait and see how the Metropolitan Police Department responds to a review of its officer-involved shootings before deciding whether to open a civil rights investigation into the agency, two civil rights groups were told Tuesday.
The letter from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division was a disappointment to the two groups, which requested the investigation after a Review-Journal series about police shootings and after the police shooting death of an unarmed, disabled war veteran late last year.
‘That’s not the response we were expecting,’ said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. ‘We were expecting them to take our request seriously.’
A formal decision about whether to investigate could be months away and could hinge on the findings of a separate, voluntary federal review of Las Vegas police shootings, policies and procedures, according to the letter by the chief of the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section.
As I’ve previously written, it’s highly unlikely that the Holder DOJ will pursue an actual investigation against Metro, although Las Vegas and Metro sources have suggested that even the anemic COPS inquiry is causing considerable worry for Metro. As regular readers of my “Saving the Republic: Why Barack Obama Must Be Defeated” series, posted every Monday (available at the SMM “Politics” archive), and the work of former DOJ attorney J. Christian Adams at PJ Media where I also contribute, the Obama/Holder Department of Justice is politicized and racially biased to a previously unimaginable degree, and Erik Scott was a red-headed white man. Mr. Obama is unlikely to allow a major investigation that would seriously embarrass Nevada Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed, but is sufficiently politically canny to use the toothless COPS inquiry for temporary political cover, at least until after the election. Should Mr. Obama be reelected, it would not be unreasonable to believe that’s where any federal inquiry will end.
The officials involved in the COPS inquiry have noted that such reviews can take as long as two years, but they expect to complete it more quickly. It is, apparently, still ongoing.
On March 5, 2012, the RJ reported that the Nevada ACLU again asked the DOJ for a full investigation.
“A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.”
UPDATE, 06-20-12, 1130 CST: The Review Journal reports that former Metro officer Thomas Mendiola–he fired four of the five rounds that struck Erik Scott in the back and buttocks as he was falling or face down on the ground after being shot by Mosher–took a plea deal:
“Mendiola, one of the Metropolitan Police Department officers who shot and killed Erik Scott outside the Summerlin Costco in July 2010, pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor charge of conspiring to dispose of a firearm to a prohibited person.
District Judge Douglas Herndon accepted the plea and fined Mendiola $2,000.
Mendiola, 35, had been facing a more serious felony charge of unlawfully giving a handgun to a two-time felon and was to stand trial on Monday.
The plea agreement was ironed out by Chief Deputy District Attorney Sandra DiGiacomo and Mendiola’s attorney, Ulrich Smith.
Mendiola entered the plea because he wants to move on with his life, Smith said.
‘He wants to leave Las Vegas with his family,’ Smith said. ‘It’s too difficult for him here.’
COMING IN FUTURE UPDATES:
* Metro’s handpicked eyewitnesses—what did they really see?
* A Metro mistake that proves my theory of the case.