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April 17, 2014

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Police union says changes to coroner’s inquest unconstitutional

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Jackie Valley

The Las Vegas Police Protective Association filed legal petitions Tuesday in Clark County District Court to block changes to the coroner’s inquest process, alleging the changes are unconstitutional. The police union’s executive director, Chris Collins (front and center), addresses the media Tuesday morning.

Coroner's inquest challenge

KSNV coverage of police union challenge of new coroner's inquest process, June 21, 2011.

The Las Vegas Police Protective Association filed legal action Tuesday to halt changes to the coroner's inquest process that it deems unconstitutional, specifically the introduction of an ombudsman to represent victims' families.

The ultimate goal is to eliminate the coroner's inquest altogether and reinvent what the union believes is a better process, the association's executive director, Chris Collins, told the media Tuesday.

"This process is no longer fair to our officers," he said. "We have advised our officers, after seeking legal counsel, that they should take the fifth and no longer participate in this process."

Attorney Josh Reisman, who is representing officers, filed petitions for a writ of prohibition and writ of mandamus in Clark County District Court. The petitions would prevent Judge Karen P. Bennett-Haron from presiding over the first revamped coroner's inquest, scheduled for July 12, and block Clark County officials from proceeding with the inquests.

Police unions for Henderson and North Las Vegas also oppose the inquest changes, Collins said.

Clark County commissioners reviewed the inquest process late last year after public outcry regarding the officer-involved shootings that killed Trevon Cole in his Las Vegas apartment and Erik Scott in a Summerlin Costco last June and July, respectively.

Commissioners passed an ordinance Dec. 7 to revise the inquest process. Changes include the inclusion of an ombudsman to represent the victims' families, the release of key evidence and investigative files and the restructuring of meetings before the inquest hearing.

The July 12 inquest would be the first to reflect the changes. The petitions were filed on behalf of the three officers scheduled to be part of that inquest: Officers Phil Zaragoza, Michael Franco and Peter Kruse, who were involved in a shooting that killed 22-year-old Benjamin Bowman at a P.T.'s Pub last November.

Unless ordered by the court, Collins said the three officers don't plan to attend the inquest because of the alleged unconstitutional changes. The introduction of an ombudsman will make the inquest an adversarial process for officers rather than what he said is supposed to be a fact-finding hearing, Collins said.

The police union had proposed a measure during the legislative session to eliminate the inquest process altogether, but the bill failed. Clark County is the only jurisdiction in the state where officers involved in fatal shootings go through a coroner's inquest, Collins said.

"We simply wanted to be treated as officers are treated throughout our state," he said.

The police union deflected accusations that it's dodging transparency and on the verge of losing public support, citing 30 years of voluntary participation in the coroner's inquests.

"The officers would very much like to participate in this process if it was a fair and level playing field," Collins said.

Reisman said the inquest changes violate due process and equal protection laws in the state and federal constitution as well as a separation of powers doctrine — essentially, creating a situation for officers to be tried in the "court of public opinion" with the addition of an ombudsman.

"These cops deserve a fair trial, too, and that's what this is all about," he said.

Reisman said he expects the case to be assigned to a district court judge, and if the opposition requests a hearing, a judge will render a decision afterward.

It's a process that could take a week or six months, Collins said, not leaving much time before the scheduled July 12 inquest.

"We have to do this on an expedited basis," Reisman said.

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  1. Public trust in Metro is almost non-existent, and is rapidly going away for the D.A.'s office. Action such as this does not help.

  2. Apparently the cops are the only ones that deserve a fair trial, judging by their actions. Although they claim to want an honest fact finding process what they endorse stacks the deck in favor of the police and unfairly hinders the defendants. In light of the frequency of officer involved shootings in the valley, the number of officer involved deaths and their apparent tendency to shoot first and find the truth after the fact, I'm sure they would file suit to maintain the status quo.

    I am and always have been a big supporter of the police and a sympathizer for the difficult job they do, but after paying attention to the number and frequency of incidents involving police since moving here, I'm concerned that if I'm ever in a situation where the police are involved I might not survive and I would at least like my family to have some ability for recourse if they are in the wrong.

    In this case I believe the union is doing the rank and file policeman or woman a disservice by leading them down a path that will pit them against the public time after time. It's time to do the right thing and not necessarily the protect your own at all costs thing.

  3. Justice within the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD)

    Las Vegas, Nevada; It has been reported that District Attorney Steve Wolfson will prosecute Jesus Arevalo, with 99% certainty. Without question, Veterans In Politics, International, commends and supports Mr. Wolfson, should he go forward with this endeavor. Since December 2011, Jesus Arevalo has escaped justice after executing cancer-ridden disabled Gulf War Veteran Stanley Gibson, by shooting the unarmed and subdued man in the back of the head 7 times with an AR 15 assault rifle.

    We would urge Mr. Wolfson to continue his pursuit of justice by helping citizens address the issue of un-ending paid administrative leave for officers whom are under investigation. If an officer's behavior is egregious enough to warrant an investigation, tax payers should not be asked to give them a paid vacation. These officers are being rewarded. The cost to taxpayers is astronomical, unfair, and criminal.

    The Police Protective Association (PPA) should also be put in check. Too often, the conflict of interest that exists with the relationship between LVMPD and the PPA results in no justice to the residents of Clark County.

    Chris Collins of the Police Protective Association, stated to reporters, "The PPA believe"officer Arevalo acted well within statutes of the State of Nevada, the policies of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and committed no criminal act." If this is a fact, that the policies of LVMPD include authorizing officers to assassinate unarmed, physically and mentally ill citizens, then we need to address not only the resignation of Las Vegas Sheriff Doug Gillespie, but also the resignation and possible prosecution of officers whom implement this policy, as well as the authors of such statutes and policies.

    In addition, to these failed and criminal policies are the reports we have received of Clark County Judges showing favoritism and special treatment for LVMPD officers who are arrested, by issuing them Orders of Release (OR) without first having to post any bail, allowing the use of special phones for incarcerated officers, and being processed more quickly than every other citizen. We would remind our elected officials that we are ALL equal under the law.

    On the issue of officers who are arrested, recently Gillespie stated "I am given daily reports of officers who are incarcerated." Are LVMPD officers committing crimes often enough to be arrested daily? Or, if not being arrested daily, are they being arrested often enough that a "daily" report is needed? If LVMPD officers who serve under Las Vegas Sheriff Doug Gillespie are so regularly breaking the law, the public should know who they are, and their records. This is a very serious issue that Mr. Wolfson is well within his duties to investigate, and owes it to Clark County citizens to do so.

  4. We believe Mr. Wolfson to be a man of integrity, who respects and desires justice for the people of our County. We recognize the difficulty in standing up against a system that has a long time culture of being taken advantage of by corrupt and unscrupulous individuals who use their positions to further their own political agendas and careers.

    Mr. Wolfson is a man who has the courage to fight for justice on behalf of the citizens of Clark County.

    For More Information:
    www.veteransinpolitics.org
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