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April 18, 2014

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Officers refuse to answer questions in death of man shot with Taser

Chris Collins

Chris Collins

Sheriff Doug Gillespie

Sheriff Doug Gillespie

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

In the first test of the county’s new rules for reviewing police-involved deaths, officers connected with the Dec. 11 death of a suspect who was shot with a Taser are refusing to cooperate with investigators.

Their refusal to make voluntary statements to Metro’s Force Investigation Team is on the advice of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said Chris Collins, president of the officers union. From Collins’ standpoint, not only is the officers’ refusal to cooperate the right thing to do, it marks the beginning of the end of the coroner’s inquest system.

The system, in use for 40 years, has come under fire in the wake of controversial shootings involving Metro officers, prompting Clark County commissioners to undertake a revision of the ordinance that lays the ground rules for the courtlike hearings.

“We believe the process to examine (the inquest system) and change the ordinance was the first nail in the coffin,” Collins said. “And I’m going to finish nailing it shut.”

Sheriff Doug Gillespie called Collins’ statements premature.

Although the officers involved in the incident that ended in the death of 44-year-old Anthony Jones refused to talk to Metro’s investigators, Gillespie said they did cooperate in other ways: They gave statements to their supervisors, which can be used in an inquest; they also go through an administrative examination of the incident, which cannot be used in the inquest.

County commissioners are expected to consider and possibly finalize additional changes to the inquest process at their meeting Monday. The key change being considered is the process of selecting the ombudsman, who acts as the representative at the inquest for victim’s family.

“That’s going to be critical, ultimately, to the success of the inquest process changes,” Gillespie said.

He noted that the police union’s objections to the inquest process aren’t new. It has long had concerns about officers giving voluntary statements to homicide investigators, similar to those raised by Collins and the officers involved in the Dec. 11 incident.

“In other cities, too, sometimes they don’t get voluntary statements, but they get the administrative and they are able to determine what happens. And the criminal investigation goes its path and the administrative goes its path.”

Complaints about the inquest system came to a head after two controversial shootings this year involving Erik Scott, a West Point graduate, at Costco in Summerlin, and Trevon Cole, who was unarmed when police shot and killed him at his home.

After those shootings, Commissioner Steve Sisolak pushed for creation of a committee to look at changes in the way the shootings are reviewed. Before the commission voted to accept many of the reforms this month, Collins warned commissioners that he would advise union members not to participate in the criminal investigations.

Officers’ refusal to participate was “my concern that I expressed over and over again,” Sisolak said. “They’re just following through with what they said they would do.”

On Monday, commissioners will consider requiring payment of the attorney/ombudsman and that the attorney not be involved in police use-of-force lawsuits five years before or after the inquest.

Other reforms agreed to by commissioners include:

• Allowing police officers to have a union attorney at inquests.

• Replacing juries with “inquest panels” and not giving them the option of reaching verdicts of justified, excusable or criminal.

• Letting attorneys for families and officers meet twice with a judge and prosecutor before an inquest.

Collins said he wants officers to avoid being questioned four times about the same incident — during the criminal investigation, at the inquest, and then, if there is a civil suit, a deposition, and at a trial.

To paint a picture of the problems that might arise, Collins gave a fictional example: After shooting a suspect, an officer tells homicide investigators he was 6 feet away when he shot; during the inquest, the ombudsman grills him and gets him to say it was “6 or 7 feet”; then a civil suit is filed and the officer has to go into a deposition and answer again; then he answers one more time during the civil trial.

Even though by the time the inquest is held, the district attorney has typically decided not to charge the officer, Collins said going through the questions four times is onerous.

“Now we’re saying ‘screw it’ — you only have to answer twice instead of four times: Answer in the deposition and the federal case and skip the homicide investigation and skip the inquest,” Collins said.

By skipping the inquest, officers will avoid the potentially embarrassing and uncomfortable situation of sitting in the witness chair and pleading the Fifth Amendment to every question, Collins said. He thinks officers will merely have to inform officials beforehand that they won’t answer questions, negating the need to show up to the inquest.

But that’s not how attorney Allen Lichtenstein, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, sees it. An officer who is subpoenaed “has to show up,” he said.

Lichtenstein added that even though officers involved in deaths may plead the Fifth, officers who are bystanders don’t have that right. And in agreement with the sheriff, he doesn’t see how the inquest reforms should change whether officers feel compelled to cooperate. For one, he said, few police-involved deaths result in civil suits. Even those that do can be quashed before they get to court.

“So there’s nothing really new, coroner’s inquests have always taken time and officers have always testified,” he said. “The only difference is that instead of being limited to questions by a friendly district attorney, they will now face someone who will ask questions that are tougher ... The union is just saying, ‘we don’t want to be asked tough questions.’ ”

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  1. Everyone knows being a police officer is a very rough job given the circumstance. We are all human. We all make decisions. Making critical decisions in split seconds of life and death take a very special person. When a police officer takes the pistol out of the holster there decision is half way down. The other half of that decision is to pull the trigger. The training a police officer on when to shoot or don't shoot kicks in.

    Now since the hearing's will be adversarial the police unions are telling there members don't say anything and plead the 5th. I say as a citizen say yes I agree to that. It is there right to do so under the Constitution of the United States. Do I agree with the police union telling there members not to cooperate with detectives or district attorneys office, well that's up to every union member.

  2. So, in essence, the PPA wants to call the shots.
    If they don't like the rules, they won't play ball.
    What they are saying with their silence is, "we had a system that gave us a 100% guarantee of exoneration, and we liked that system."
    I agree this is probably the end of the "Coroner's Inquest" system as we've known it, which is good.
    It's been a colossal waste of time and money to render a verdict that is preordained.
    The bad news for the PPA is that ANY SYSTEM that is different than the one we've had will put more of an onus on the Officers involved. They will buck those changes.
    For the good of Metro and the citizens of Las Vegas, we need to throw out this antiquated & flawed Dog & Pony Show and replace it with something that will help to re-instill some measure of trust between the community and it's policing agency.
    To my way of thinking, that would involve having an OUTSIDE AGENCY investigate Officer Involved Shootings...
    There is NO WAY that Metro retains the power to investigate their own and the community is satisfied that justice is being served. Impartiality is what is important to folks.
    Or, at least the appearance of such.

  3. Perhaps you can replace your file picture of Mr. Collins with one that does not evidence such smugness.

  4. who will police the police? The police? yeah, right.

    Three words. Civilian Review Board

  5. [[In the first test of the county's new rules for reviewing police-involved deaths, officers connected with the Dec. 11 death of a suspect who was shot with a Taser are refusing to cooperate with investigators.]]
    ++++++
    Who do they think they are? The Gestapo?

  6. All hail the new Dictator-Chris Collins. And the thing that Dictator Collins is afraid of is one of the things cops always use to trip up criminals, their changing stories about the events of the case. Cops always ask suspects over and over and over, "tell me what happened"? Now Dictator Collins says "nope", cops aren't going to play that game. Why? I thought the truth was the truth and why be afraid if the truth is on your side. I mean isn't that what the cops always tell us?

  7. Every day police here violate our Constitutional rights with impunity -- rights each officer swore an oath to protect.

    Now the shoe's on the other foot. It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

    "We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force." - Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

  8. Metro is even more of an embarrassment now than ever before. Maybe when an innocent tourist on The Strip is killed by an out-of-control, bully-boy Metro officer, creating international headlines about our rogue police department, something will be done. I don't know exactly what can be done to stop Metro's craziness, but something, somehow has to stop it.

    We need a Sheriff with the courage to get help from outside agencies to investigate all these killings. For example, in Washoe County, there is a task force composed of detectives from Reno Police, Sparks Police, and Washoe County Sheriff's Office that investigates police killings. Perhaps because of knowing they might face an actual investigation instead of the dog and pony shows we have seen here, officers in Washoe County kill far fewer people. Unfortunately, we just re-elected our spineless Sheriff.

    We need a District Attorney with the courage to charge officers criminally when it is obvious they have done wrong (Cole, Scott et al). Unfortunately, we just re-elected our spineless District Attorney.

    Gillespie and Roger should do the right thing and resign. But doing the right thing has never been a priority for either of them. Shame on them.

  9. Thanks Commissioner Steve Sisolak. Now there is LESS justice for those murdered byt Metro.

  10. Yes, the police have incredibly dangerous jobs and yes, like firefighters, they put their lives on the line for the public. That being said, Metro seems out of control and dangerously autonomous. We charge these mostly men with the responsiblility of life and death. They are allowed to carry deadly weapons, have totally super charged cars and are generally very physically fit and strong human beings. The public should respect and support the police force. That doesn't mean that they get a pass on everything they do in the capacity of being a law enforcer. We should not fear our police. Something has run amok inside Metro.

  11. Maybe instead of investigating police involved shootings or deaths we should ask ourselves if it is worth losing a few innocent lives a year in order to keep local crime manageable. If nothing else I certainly hope LVMPD knows the truth about this incident in order to keep it from happening again. It looks bad for Las Vegas and it looks unprofessional as far as police work.

    I don't want to prejudge Mr. Collins or his superiors. The dead man may have had an unknown condition or disease and I'm sure when an altercation occurs, the officers responding don't have time to ask that question before deploying arrest tactics.

    Taser has a habit of suing coroners that implicate their product in the cause of someone's death, so the actual percentage of deaths (or serious injury) caused by Taser cannot be accurate. If we are conservative and assume 5% of people shot with a Taser (by Law Enforcement) either die or are seriously injured then that is infinitely better than the statistics of being shot by a firearm. This indicates to me that Chris Collins did not intend to kill.

  12. That is generally the tactic of criminal gangs as well, like the old "hole in the wall gang" - don't answer questions.

    That's how Martha Stewart got into trouble.

  13. @dukeofdeath....

    "Maybe instead of investigating police involved shootings or deaths we should ask ourselves if it is worth losing a few innocent lives a year in order to keep local crime manageable."

    Are you insane???

  14. "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear".

    -LAPD, circa 1968. I remember this well...I learned to swim at the Elysian Park swimming pool while Dad qualified on the shooting range. This is the Police Academy that T.J. Hooker made famous on TV. Great Show, Great Pool, Great Food, Great Picnics, Great Scenery and lots of fun memories climbing in the hills.

    Where is T.J. when we need him?

  15. Chunky says:

    Criminals and the accused have the right to remain silent and so do the cops!

    All the whining cop haters accomplished was killing any form of transparency that we may have had.

    Law enforcement is a dirty and dangerous job; sometimes the carpet gets soiled in the process of taking out the "trash" that is stinking up the town.

    We're way too soft on crime and criminals in the US, including Vegas. Gangs run wild in our streets and rule our prison yards. Kids grow up with few manners and even fewer consequences for their actions.

    Then you get slime-buckets like the family and friends of Erik Scott and Mr. Scott himself who were / are in denial and dangerous, then they cry when the cops have to mop up what should have been a family matter and handled by the family years ago!

    Chunky doesn't particularly trust the government or its caretakers but if you want to play quarterback cop try going down to the Strip tonight and help hauling some of the drunks in after they punch and puke on you. Better yet, go help them scrape someone's brains off their dashboard after a wreck.

    Cops are the trash collectors of society and there's not a whole lot of recyclable material in the mix.

    Happy New Year and lets hope we have a better 2011 than most!

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  16. "After those shootings, Commissioner Steve Sisolak pushed for creation of a committee to look at changes in the way the shootings are reviewed." Hmmmmm isn't Sisolak the same person that has been after the firefighters, and now he's after Metro. But yet the man won a 18 million dollar lawsuit against the county. Lets see what branch of the government he goes after next. Will it be the Courts, the Distract Attorneys office, well i guess we will have to wait and see.

  17. Oh and one more thing everybody over a hundred and fifty police officers died in the line of duty in 2010 and about half of them were gunned down. So are they a little leary, let me think about that for a second, DAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I was pulled over earlier this year on the way to an emergency call at work and do you know where my hands where when the police officer walked up, the same place they would have been if i was in Kearney, Nebraska, Marble Hill, Missouri, or even New York City. The same place that my father taught me on the stearing wheel. And when i talked to the officer i told him i had a knife on me and he asked me to step out and i did and lifted my shirt and pointed out my walet and he told me thank you for letting me know. That is the way to do it when talking to the police. End of discussion.

  18. -KOM674-

    Thank you for your service and thank you for protecting us.

    And chunky i agree with you a hundred percent.

    And by the way forgive me if i am wrong but wasn't Eric Scott under the influence of drug, prescription drugs, but drugs non the less when he was carrying a CW. Even a backwards state like Nebraska that is illegal to carry a concealed weapon under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

    If he would have been straight he might be alive today and as far as the man tasered how were the officers to know he had heart trouble what are they suppose to do "Hey sir im about to teaser you do you have heart trouble or any other health issues?" Come on get real. did the scumbag that shot that officer earlier this year stop and ask the police officer if he had any health issues. I don't think so.

    And yes the Constitution of the United States offers the right to remain silent. Is that just for the Scumbag punks and nobody else, the last time I checked police officers were covered under the constitution.

  19. You will notice that Police organizations around this Country have been suing to eliminate Miranda Rights for the public while increasing arrest and pre-arrest Miranda Rights for themselves.

    "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear", unless of course, your attorney is incompetent.

  20. KOM,

    You're posting as an anonymous user, do you believe the Yant shooting was justified or not?