Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2014

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First year of Citizen Review Board yields 71 complaints

During its first year the Citizen Review Board sided with Metro Police and its officers in most cases it looked at, but the board also uncovered a poorly done investigation that ended with a sergeant being suspended.

In its first report, the board noted it received 71 complaints between Aug. 13 and June 30. Three cases went to a formal hearing.

A screening board reviewed 59, and 46 of those were dismissed or the board agreed with Metro's internal investigation.

The other 10 cases were a mixture of referrals to Metro's internal affairs unit for investigation, dismissals because of lack of jurisdiction, referrals to mediation or withdrawn because the complainant was uncooperative.

Still pending before the screening board are 12 cases to be reviewed.

Among the board's most public decisions was the discovery of a poorly conducted investigation done by Sgt. Dan Southwell, who exonerated an officer of a citizen's complaint.

Following the board's report, Metro reopened the case and found Officer Richard Splinter engaged in misconduct when, while off duty, he pulled back his shirt to show his gun to an umpire who had just ejected the officer from a ball game. Southwell was suspended for falsifying a police report in his investigation.

"I think it is indicative of what a review board can do," said Andrea Beckman, executive director of the review board. "This was a case where the officer was exonerated and the board found flaws with the internal investigation."

Undersheriff Richard Winget agreed that without the review board, the poorly done investigation would never have been uncovered.

"We've said all along that we take internal investigations very seriously and welcome the review," he said.

But both admitted there is a "healthy tension" between Metro and the review board.

In her report, Beckman said Metro's direction that all review board requests go through Capt. Lou Pascoe of the internal affairs unit has been used by Metro "to deny access and free flow of information to the CRB (Citizen Review Board) by members of the LVMPD, including CCDC (Clark County Detention Center), chain of command and officers."

Police have denied that allegation, noting they wanted to designate the internal affairs commander as the person to handle review board requests.

Beckman did praise Metro in her report, stating the police are "taking the recommendations and findings of the boards seriously and appears to be making efforts to do more thorough investigations."

The discovery of the inferior investigation shows there is a place for outside review of the police department, said Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

"The fact that they found even a small number of internal investigations that were poorly and unprofessionally handled in itself vindicated our claim that such a board is needed," he said.

When the board started hearing cases late last year, police officers and officials seemed wary. Police union leaders and attorneys objected to the hearings and the fact that officers were not allowed to be present during the entire hearing. Union officials and five board members have had meetings to address their issues.

Winget said there are some concerns about due process for the officers, but he and Sheriff Jerry Keller are encouraging officers to appear at hearings and testify.

Beckman said the board could use an investigator so it does not have to rely on Metro.

"A CRB staff investigator would have the ability and sufficient means to gather information without having to rely on information, or the interpretations of information, gained in prior investigations by the police," she wrote in the report. "Indeed, it is impossible to assess whether a completed IAB investigation was thorough, accurate, credible and unbiased, without examining the very evidence upon which that investigation was based."

Peck agreed with the need for the review board to have a staff investigator.

"It is unfortunate that such funding has not been provided," Peck said. "Not having an investigator may explain the numbers (of dismissed cases) in the report."

The Citizen Review Board, which is funded by the Las Vegas City Council and Clark County Commission, was established last year after years of political wrangling. The board reviews complaints only against Metro officers and can only make recommendations to Keller, who has the final say on any discipline against officers.

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