As regular readers know, I’ve been investigating the July 10, 2010 murder of Erik Scott by three Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers since shortly after he was killed. I’ve documented that continuing investigation at the SMM Scott case archive. But I’ve also published a book–License To Kill: The Murder Of Erik Scott, which is available through Amazon, here.
In writing about that book, I noted that it has recently been revealed that Metro Police supervisors and administrators told officers to turn off their body cameras during the October 1, 2017 attack on an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. I wrote about that attack, apparently launched by a single gunman from the 32ndfloor of the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel, here, and here. Among my initial observations were that Metro officers appeared to have handled the shooting effectively. It appears I was wrong, as Fox News reports:
An armed, veteran police officer stood idle for several minutes last October as the Las Vegas gunman slaughtered dozens of concertgoers from a perch one floor up, and now that cop’s actions — and inaction — are being reviewed by the Metropolitan Police Department.
The investigation into Cordell Hendrex, and the rest of the city’s police department, comes as Las Vegas prepares to release its ninth batch of footage and records related to the shooting, which left 58 dead and hundreds injured.
By all means, read the rest of this article, and take the link to view the video. Hendrex was accompanied by Elif Varsin, a female Metro trainee, and three Mandalay Bay security personnel. Media reports suggest it was Varsin’s first day on the street under Hendrex’s direction. We have video because Varsin’s body camera was operating. Hendrex later admitted he did not turn his on. His actions–actually, inaction–suggests why Metro brass did not want their officers recording.
Holy s—. That’s rapid fire,’ Hendrex is heard saying amid the sounds of Paddock unloading his rifle. ‘Oh my God,’ he later says, before letting out an exasperated sigh.
Hendrex, who has reportedly worked with the police department since 2009, also told police radio he was ‘inside the Mandalay Bay on the 31st floor, we can hear automatic fire coming from one floor above us.
The footage shows all five people, their handguns out, essentially frozen. Varsin is clearly deferring to Hendrex, who is obviously paralyzed with fear, and the security personnel are waiting on Hendrex to lead. Gunshots are audible.
I know I hesitated and remember being terrified with fear and I think that I froze right there in the middle of the hall for how long I can’t say,’ Hendrex later wrote in a police report that was made public in May.
‘I knew that if I could come at the shooter or shooters from another side or a different angle then we could surround and contain them from escape and keep them from hurting more victims,’ he added, while noting he forgot to turn his body camera on until later in the shooting.
The Las Vegas Review Journal adds detail:
The first 30 seconds of footage contain no audio, but about 22 seconds in, the officers can be seen walking out of the security office and onto the casino floor, accompanied by the three armed guards. A few seconds later, the audio cuts in, and the words ‘active shooter’ can be heard in the background.
For about two minutes, the group walks past slot machines and casino patrons as police radio transmissions describe what is unfolding at the festival grounds. It is not until another officer broadcasts over police radio that shots are coming from Mandalay Bay that the group begins running and makes it to an elevator, hopping in front of hotel guests waiting with their luggage.
Inside the elevator, the group discusses the 32nd floor — where the shooter is located — and the 31st floor. For unknown reasons, Hendrex and Varsin get out on the 31st floor with the armed guards, pistols drawn.
Getting out on the 31stfloor, when they knew the shooter was on the 32ndfloor, indicates Hendrex was in a blind panic long before exiting the elevator.
The next nearly five minutes take place in a hallway on the 31st floor, directly beneath the gunman.
Nearly two minutes after the group arrives on the 31st floor, Hendrex announces his position over police radio.
‘I’m inside the Mandalay Bay on the 31st floor,’ he says. ‘I can hear the automatic fire coming from one floor ahead, one floor above us.’
About 20 seconds later, the group hears a transmission from an officer on the ground: ‘Multiple GSWs (gunshot wounds) to the chest, leg, femoral arteries in the medical tent.
As the transmission ends, Hendrex suddenly takes several steps backward, then dips behind an alcove next to a hotel room door. His trainee and the guards do the same.
He knows where the shooter is. He can hear the shooting on the floor above him. He’s in no danger, yet he’s taking cover in an empty hallway.
I know I hesitated and I remember being terrified with fear and I think that I froze right there in the middle of the hall for how long I can’t say,’ Hendrex would later write in his report.
Shortly after the group takes cover, one of the guards gets on Mandalay Bay security radio and says, ‘We know where it’s at, the 32nd floor, room 135. Everyone else off the radio. I’m with Metro now.’
For another minute and a half, the group stands still.
In the body camera video,Varsin pivots back and forth, obviously looking to Hendrex and a security guard for some clue what to do. None would be forthcoming.
We’re taking gunfire,’ an officer on the ground can be heard saying in the meantime over police radio. ‘It’s going right over our heads. We’re pinned down here with a bunch of civilians.
Hendrex’s body language reveals his terror at this point in the video.
Hendrex ‘once again hesitated’ and ‘did not know what to do next,’ according to his report.
As the final volley of gunfire goes off, Hendrex exclaims, ‘Oh, my God!’
‘We can’t worry about victims,’ a different officer can be heard broadcasting over police radio a few seconds later. ‘We need to stop the shooter before we have more victims. Does anyone have eyes on the shooter?
One might think this radio transmission spurred Hendrex to action, but it only caused him to move. Earnest Hemingway once noted we should not mistake motion for action. Hendrex was moving only.
Hendrex does not respond but begins walking down the hallway alone.
‘Where are you going, sir?’ his trainee asks.
Without an audible answer, she begins following Hendrex and the armed guards toward the stairwell.
One may think it difficult to criticize Hendrex. It was a truly dangerous situation, he was with a trainee and three “civilians” as police refer to non-police, and all could have been killed. One may make that observation, but they would be wrong.
Hendrex is apparently a Field Training Officer, a FTO. Virtually all law enforcement agencies have some form of field training program. New officers generally complete all initial training such as a basic academy, state certification, etc. before entering an FTO program. In it, they are assigned to as many as three Field Training Officers over time. Each teaches and evaluates them as often as daily. It is on the street that learning really takes place, and new officers are not allowed to operate on the street alone until they successfully pass an FTO program.
As I’ve noted in my writings on Metro, the agency’s training is notoriously substandard, and they have a long history of retaining terribly unfit people, some of whom kill innocent citizens. I do not, however, have any information to suggest that Varsin is substandard. However, officers assigned as FTOs are generally considered to be among the agency’s best, the kind of people capable of molding new officers into professionals.
There is no question human beings, faced with imminent deadly danger, experience fear and hesitation. The self-preservation impulse is strong. This is true of police officers as well as “civilians.” Experienced, professional officers still experience fear. They’ve just been frightened so often they know how to deal with it. They are not paralyzed. They run to the sound of gunfire and use their training and experience to adapt and overcome.
Most importantly, any competent police officer must make their peace with the possibility of death. Thankfully, few officers ever die on the job, but the specter of death rides with every one of them, every day. During my police days, I had no doubt I might be required to give my life to save others. I accepted it, filed it away, and worked very hard to be sufficiently tactically proficient that I might avoid that outcome, but it was one of the fundamental, basic realities of the job. Anyone not willing to die, anyone not willing to take the life of a criminal, if necessary, should never don the uniform.
It’s impossible to say with certainty that Hendrex’s inaction cost lives, but he knew where the shooter was. He knew what the shooter was doing. He was accompanied by four armed people, who most likely would have followed him. And it appears he was closer than anyone else to the shooter. Perhaps more than any other Metro officer, Hendrex might have saved lives had he not been paralyzed by fear. But the shooter is reported to have killed himself. Hendrex–Metro–had no role in stopping him, in saving lives.
As I’ve previously observed, one cannot trust anything Metro says. They have proved, over decades, they will lie and cover up any and everything they consider embarrassing or illegal, including murder–particularly murder. The FBI is also involved in the investigation of the shooting, but their reputation is also in tatters. Metro has been releasing some information, but it is unlikely they will ever release a coherent account of the events of that evening, and less likely whatever they release will be believable.
Some police officers freeze, like Hendrex, but most are fortunate. No one will ever know of their inaction. I suspect most police officers are not cowards, but the possibility is always there. Police officers cannot freeze in terror. That too is a fundamental, basic characteristic of competent police officers.
One might also observe that Hendrex admitted his failure, which had to be difficult. At the least, it suggests he has a conscience, something many Metro officers lack. But dealing with fear and saving lives are bare minimum qualifications for the job. Should we demand less of police officers?
It should be absolutely clear that the police cannot protect any individual citizen. As I’ve often written, they have no legal obligation to protect anyone, and if they work for Metro, they can kill with impunity, as License To Kill reveals.
And as I’ve often written, most police officers are not competent with their firearms, which for most means handguns. Qualifications are infrequent, standards are low, and absent qualification, most police officers never practice with their handguns–or clean them.
Metro reflexively circles the wagons around deadly, incompetent officers. Officers are disciplined–few are ever fired–only if they do something so public, so outrageous it cannot be easily swept under the rug, and even then, discipline is rare. In a professional law enforcement agency, Officer Hendrex’s career would be over. In Metro–who knows?
There is, however, one final, universal lesson: when it comes to protecting our lives and the lives of those we love, we’re on our own. We always have been–particularly in Las Vegas.
UPDATE, 07-10-18 1745 CST: License To Kill is also available through the publisher’s website: North Slope Publications. com.