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March 31, 2015

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County commissioner recommends changes to inquest process

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Less than 90 minutes after a coroner’s jury ruled the shooting of Erik Scott justified, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak was offering ideas about how to make the inquest process more fair.

Sisolak and Police Protective Association Executive Director Chris Collins appeared Tuesday night on “Face to Face With Jon Ralston” to discuss possible changes to the coroner’s inquest, which has been under scrutiny by Scott’s family and other critics of the process.

Scott was shot to death July 10 outside a Summerlin Costco store by police responding to a call of a man with a gun acting erratically and destroying merchandise. Scott was armed but had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Sisolak presented a handful of proposed changes, some of which he referred to as “more superficial,” such as having all future inquests televised.

Collins agreed with Sisolak.

But some of the more substantial changes presented — such as having officers tested for drugs and alcohol immediately after an officer-involved shooting — were not as agreeable with Collins.

“I don’t know how Metro or PPA would feel about it, but I think it’s reasonable to drug- and alcohol-test the officer after a fatal shooting,” Sisolak said. “On the surface, it would seem reasonable. Give me a reason why they wouldn’t?”

Sisolak said he was contacted by many people who asked why the officers were not tested.

Collins did not agree that the measure should be implemented, saying that officers’ contracts already call for drug tests in certain situations.

Collins said there is a “reasonable suspicions” drug test if a supervisor has reason to believe, through an officer’s actions, that he may be using narcotics, as well as random drug tests.

When asked what the harm would be in drug-testing after the shooting, Collins said he didn’t see much harm.

“I’m unaware of an agency in the United States now that does that,” Collins said. “I have all the confidence in the world that our officers are not abusing drugs or narcotics in any way.”

Another proposed change is to change the wording of county code to make it a requirement for a family’s attorney to submit a list of witnesses to be subpoenaed to the judge, effectively changing the code from “may provide the judge with a list of witnesses” to “shall provide,” Sisolak said.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to not provide it at the inquest...and then bring them out if we get to a civil trial later,” Sisolak said. “If you have some knowledge about this event... you should come forward at this time, not at a later time.”

Sisolak suggested there may be no need for a verdict at the end of the inquest. The jury can find a police shooting justified, excusable or criminal.

“This isn’t a trial; it’s a fact-finding,” he said. “Maybe we don’t need to come up with justified, excused, unjustified; maybe we just gather the facts and let the DA make the call.”

Earlier on the show, Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown announced his decision to run for mayor and also agreed that the process needed to be “looked at.”

“I think it’s incumbent upon the County Commission to take a look at the process, hear from those who are closest to it — the DA, the sheriff, the police association — and get a better perspective, because there’s nothing wrong with taking a look,” Brown said.

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  1. I am beginning to wonder if the inquest is needed at all. Its findings are non-binding, and server little purpose than to make it difficult for anyone to win a wrongful death or civil rights case. In effect, the inquest serves only to limit the government's exposure to damages.

    In another story on the Sun it was reported that in the course of about 200 cases over more than 30 years the inquest system has returned a verdict of "criminal" only once, and the grand jury declined to indict.

    How much money has been spent on just this latest inquest? For what purpose?

    Yes, the process certainly needs to be changed to something that is meaningful. But more importantly, the system, the DA, Metro and other departments need to regain not only the public's respect, but our trust.

  2. What could possibly be wrong with drug-testing officers involved in fatal shootings, or WHENEVER they discharge their firearm?
    It may be true that Collins is "unaware" whether it is done elsewhere, but I'd be shocked if it isn't...just to protect the officers if nothing else.

    Other Law enforcement agencies are grappling with similar issues;

    The Eric Scott case has been a good Civics lesson for us.
    And, it has exposed a process that is absolutely FARSICLE...
    and lends itself to a further EROSION of Metro's public image.

    LVMPD should not be the investigating agency on their own shootings.
    Again, it just goes to the issue of being "fair & impartial", and in not doing so, Metro has a "public trust" issue...

    Civilian Revue Board & outside agency investigations of lethal police actions would go A LONG WAY in restoring public trust in Metro.

    Protect & Serve.
    It's not just a "concept"...
    It's a directive and a pledge.
    Is it being practiced with uniformity here in County Clark?

    As a whole, you do outstanding work in a city that makes that very, very difficult.

  3. I agree, boftx, I also do not see any need for an inquiry. What I do see as necessary is a METRO homicide division that will do its job and collect evidence, along with an aggressive DA that will do its job faithfully to the letter of the intent of the law to evaluate that evidence. After that, all the evidence must be made public to allow independent review by both the press and by any interested parties. In addition, the state must audit the process to confirm that METRO and the DA are in fact doing their respective jobs. This inquest process, by its nature, has turned into a three ring dog and pony show where the DA and Metro are doing everything in their power to put METRO's actions in the best possible light and all other into the worst possible light. This must change.