Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: JUSTICE:

Longtime lawsuit finally to get court airing

North Las Vegas, its police department and chief sued over man’s death in 2002

It’s been more than seven years since 31-year-old Roberto Arce died after being restrained by North Las Vegas police officers.

On Monday, following protracted legal wrangling that went up to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a civil rights lawsuit Arce’s family filed over his death will go to trial in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James Mahan.

North Las Vegas, its police department, Police Chief Joseph Forti and seven officers are defendants in the wrongful death suit.

The complaint, filed in April 2004, charges the officers suffocated Arce when they detained him in his garage. They stuffed a dirty rag in his mouth, “basically hogtied him” and used excessive force to cut off his breathing while he was on his stomach, the complaint says. Officers also placed a “bee mask” over his head and allegedly ignored his complaints of having trouble breathing.

According to attorney Cal Potter, who is representing the family, Arce’s wife, Joana, called police to the couple’s home about 8:30 p.m. April 8, 2002, when Arce began acting erratically under the influence of cocaine. His wife was concerned because three babies were in the house, including month-old twins. She wanted police to get him medical attention.

But Arce was combative when police arrived, so they restrained him.

Potter says he intends to show the jury that Arce died because the officers weren’t properly trained.

Robert Freeman, the attorney representing the officers, did not return phone calls.

•••

Bill Gang, the Nevada Supreme Court’s public information officer, was forced to spend a day this week fielding national and local media calls spurred by an erroneous entertainment Web site report on O.J. Simpson.

Click to enlarge photo

Photo of O.J. Simpson after his conviction.

The Web site reported that Simpson had been released from prison in Nevada.

The incorrect report, which was ultimately pulled off the Internet, had popped up Tuesday, the day after a three-judge panel of the high court heard arguments on Simpson’s bid for freedom while he appeals his robbery conviction.

Most journalists understand the state Supreme Court doesn’t act that fast. But that didn’t stop the calls to the court.

Gang says it could be a couple of months before there is a decision on whether Simpson can be released while appealing his case.

•••

After nearly a year of volleys between prosecutors and defense lawyers, U.S. Magistrate George Foley Jr. should soon get a chance to weigh in on a defense claim of outrageous government conduct in a federal weapons sting at a local tattoo shop.

Defense attorneys are poised today to grill the final witness, a local supervisor with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, at a hearing before Foley.

The hearing, which has been conducted off and on over the past 10 months, is part of an effort by defense attorneys to get weapons and drug charges dismissed against a half-dozen clients.

The defendants were ensnared in a 15-month undercover ATF investigation of violent criminals, dubbed “Operation Sin City Ink.”

Attorneys have alleged that one of the lead undercover agents was caught on videotape using illegal drugs during the sting, and they have complained that the government destroyed videotapes favorable to their clients.

The agent, Peter McCarthy, however, previously testified that the drugs he is seen using were fake, and Foley did not appear impressed with the defense’s argument.

Prosecutors contend no evidence was destroyed and there was no outrageous conduct on the part of the government.

•••

Maybe topless clubs aren’t immune from tough economic times after all.

Liquor distributor Southern Wine & Spirits filed suit this week in District Court to recover an unpaid $62,232 alcohol tab from Seamless gentlemen’s club across from the Orleans.

According to the lawsuit, the bill was for liquor sold to the club from July through November 2008.

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