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September 2, 2014

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Q+A: SHERIFF DOUG GILLESPIE:

On coroner’s inquests, police cameras and challenges facing cops

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Leila Navidi

Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie speaks during an editorial board meeting with Las Vegas Sun staff inside his office in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2012.

Updated Sunday, May 13, 2012 | 2:02 p.m.

Because of delays in launching the reformed coroner’s inquest system, Metro Police will release their own findings about officer-involved deaths, Sheriff Douglas Gillespie said Thursday.

The decision follows in the footsteps of the Clark County District Attorney’s Office, which last month began releasing case reviews answering basic questions about the deaths. The last coroner’s inquest was in September 2010, before a series of legal challenges arose questioning the legality of changes to the system.

Metro plans to release investigative summaries created by the department's Force Investigation Team regarding each officer-involved death, Gillespie told the Sun editorial board. The investigative summaries will correlate with each case review released by the District Attorney's Office.

By releasing the reports, the public will be able to determine whether Metro has modified policies, procedures, training and equipment, Gillespie said.

The department could begin releasing its findings in the next week or two, he said.

At the Police Protective Association’s request, the Nevada Supreme Court issued a temporary stay last week, once again delaying the start of a revised coroner’s inquest system.

The much-debated coroner’s inquest system was one of many issues Gillespie discussed in a wide-ranging interview. He also touched on the Justice Department’s review of Metro’s use-of-force policy, efforts to equip officers with video cameras, his stance on legalizing marijuana and his desire to tighten prosecutions for those convicted of firearms offenses.

Following are excerpts from the Gillespie interview, edited for clarity and brevity.

Should the reformed inquest system be used or should the Clark County Commission go back to square one in crafting a new process?

Is there a better way than the coroner’s inquest process? That’s a question the County Commission needs to ask. If I stand up and say scrap the inquest process and bring something else in, people look at it as if I’m trying to circumvent the ordinance that went into effect. And you know what? The majority of those changes to that inquest process were my recommendations.

Were you satisfied with the revisions to the inquest system?

If you look at the Trevon Cole inquest and the Erik Scott inquest, there were far too many lawyers in the gallery submitting far too many questions. These people were not representing families associated with this nor the officers. I felt the ombudsman was the way to accomplish that.

My concern now is we haven’t had an inquest. I don’t see us having one in the very near future, and we need to get the information out, get the officers back to work and bring some closure.

Last time we spoke, you mentioned adding a public component to officer-involved death investigations. Where does that stand?

What’s changed is the district attorney now comes out to the scene — sometimes himself or a representative from his office. But as far as the citizen part, no. The Justice Department recommended we don’t make any changes right now.

(The Justice Department is examining 20 years’ worth of use-of-force incidents by Metro Police and will ultimately recommend best practices. Metro expects to receive the report in August.)

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Metro outfitting officers or patrol cars with video cameras, a proposal that has gotten resistance from the Police Protective Association. What’s going on with that?

I talked to the bargaining units about camera systems. It’s going to happen. It’s technology. I would prefer that we’re on the front side of this rather than playing catch-up.

We’re doing some testing and evaluations.

The association has challenged the department on this, particularly me. They say the use of cameras should be a matter of collective bargaining. I don’t agree with them. But I don’t want this to become like the coroner’s inquest process — tied up in legal arguments. I’m talking particularly to the Police Protective Association as to how we mitigate this.

What’s the union’s beef with the on-body video cameras?

I’m told I’m oversimplifying it. I don’t think I am. One of the criticisms of it is that it’s a safety issue. Officers will be distracted turning it on and off.

I have a lot of faith in my workforce out there. They’re very bright, very energetic. They’re going to figure out rather quickly to turn on and turn off the camera when it’s supposed to be.

Switching gears, what’s your take on gun laws in Nevada?

We need to be more aggressive in dealing with the person caught with the illegal firearm. Far too often that charge is minimized in the criminal justice system. We need to prioritize. I think at the top of that list in regards to who goes to prison should be those who commit a crime with the use of a gun.

What would ensure stiffer prosecutions for gun crimes?

There will be even more conversations at my level with the district attorney as well as the U.S. attorney to prioritize those prosecutions. When I see firearms increasing in robberies in my jurisdiction, that’s an indicator to me that we need to become more aggressive.

Another political push is to legalize marijuana. What’s your opinion?

I’m not in favor of it. One of the biggest problems we have today in society is the abuse of prescription drugs. But they’re controlled, they’re taxed.

I just think it’s an oversimplification of the issue to say we need to legalize marijuana. I think we have clearly demonstrated for those who want to see it that these so-called clinics that we closed down and arrested people were not just there helping people in times of need.

The other issue with the legalization of marijuana — we are really sending a mixed message to the youth of this country. The marijuana of the 1970s and ’80s is not the marijuana of today.

How is being a cop today more challenging than in the past?

For starters, Las Vegas is a unique place because of the 24/7, 365-day nature of the city. There’s none other like it in the country. And the criminal element is out there working it the entire time.

Compared to the past, the big change is that a higher percentage of the population is willing to challenge — with force — a police officer doing his job. You see that attitude in schools, too, of youth not having respect for authority. And when they get older, they take that to the next level.

And then you add guns. When I started policing in 1980, it was rare for you to take a gun off someone. And the guns we usually came across were crap. You couldn’t even shoot with some of them, they were so old.

Today, they’ve got guns that are as good or better than what I carry, with extra-capacity magazine and all the ammo they want. And they don’t have any fear.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated per clarification from Metro Police. | (May 13, 2012)

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  1. Sheriff Gillespie tells the Sun, "My concern now is we haven't had an inquest. I don't see us having one in the very near future, and we need to get the information out, get the officers back to work and bring some closure."

    What is he talking about? GET THE OFFICERS BACK TO WORK?!?!?

    Not only has Metro put these officers back to work without an inquest, one, Christoper Grivas, has already killed again (http://wp.me/2bnGV).

    Is it even possible for Gillespie to speak to the press without a truck load of B.S. flowing out?

    Now I get that the legal challenges by a select group of cops who don't believe they are accountable to the public they serve has made it fiscally irresponsible to keep the 20 or more officers affected on paid leave. But when Gillespie told us last year he would be reinstating the officers before an inquest was held, he assured us these officers would be assigned low risk duties without contact with the general public. Yet another in a long line of Gillespie lies.

    Now if Grivas's actions turn out to be more in line with what witnesses say happened in his first shooting, justification becomes a big issue. And wouldn't you know it, the witnesses to his second shooting in less the one year also contradict his version of event. Coincidence? Maybe? But is it worth the risk?

    Police often liken themselves to sheepdogs, a metaphor that is insulting, yet completely accurate to how LE views the public. But maybe we should treat them like sheepdogs protecting the flock, because whenever a sheep dog kills a sheep and gets a taste for their blood, they will always kill again, so they are put down. Maybe this is what we should do to keep Metro from dealing with another George Pease, Dave Reid, William Marx or Darrell Hixson, each of whom chalked up at least three FOIS while with Metro.

    Justified or not, any cop who finds himself involved it multiple citizen deaths in less than a year needs to find a new line of work. They are not worth the risk.

  2. It would be nice to hear more Metro Officers opinions on the Legalization question, Since they are on the frontline, is there violent crime associated with even a small amount ? if so would legalization help or hurt?

  3. @Cognastics...They are out there...http://www.leap.cc/