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August 21, 2014

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After decision on Stanley Gibson case, DA Wolfson explains grand-jury process

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Steve Marcus

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson is seeking an indictment against Metro Police officer Jesus Arevalo in the December 2011 fatal shooting of disabled veteran Stanley Gibson.

The name sounds uppity, maybe even a little pretentious: grand jury.

The legal community tosses the phrase around with ease. After all, it rolls off the tongue smoothly — so smoothly that the Average Joe might not give it a second thought.

It’s a justice-system process shrouded in secrecy, where 17 jurors hear cases and often decide whether the evidence presented merits a trial. Aside from the jurors, only a few people are allowed to enter the proceeding, such as the district attorney, a testifying witness, an attorney accompanying a witness and an interpreter.

Nearly two weeks ago, however, the mysterious proceeding was thrust into the spotlight when authorities disclosed that Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson was sending a deadly officer-involved shooting case to a grand jury.

The controversial shooting resulted in the death of Stanley Gibson, a 43-year-old Gulf War veteran who was shot and killed by Metro Police officer Jesus Arevalo on Dec. 12, 2011. Gibson, whose wife said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was unarmed at the time.

Sheriff Douglas Gillespie has condemned Wolfson’s decision, calling it a “mistake” in a video message to department employees.

Wolfson has remained mum on the reasoning behind his decision, but he sat down with a Sun reporter to explain the grand-jury process. Here’s a sampling of that discussion, edited for clarity and brevity:

What’s the purpose behind sending a case to a grand jury?

Oftentimes, (it’s) when you want to speed a case up to the district court level. Generally, cases start in justice court and then proceed to the trial court. Sometimes cases will take a long time in justice court … We feel we don’t want to wait that long to get a case moving, so we’ll take a case to the grand jury and we can get an indictment usually right away.

Sometimes, if you have certain witnesses who you don’t want to subject to a public hearing, you bring those cases before a grand jury. Sometimes sensitive cases involving sensitive topics or sensitive people will go to a grand jury, but there’s no set rule. It’s a prosecutor’s choice.

What is the role of the grand jury?

The grand jury, their role, is to determine whether there is slight or marginal evidence, which is the standard for probable cause. If they find probable cause, they indict.

An indictment, however, isn’t the only outcome of a grand jury. What’s the difference between an indictment and a presentment?

An indictment is something the prosecutor asks the grand jury to consider. A presentment is the product of the grand jury’s own deliberation. The legal effect is the same. An indictment comes out of a grand jury — criminal charge. A presentment comes out of the grand jury — criminal charge. But how it got there is different.

Prosecutors don't always ask a grand jury to consider an indictment in a case being heard. Why is that?

What if a prosecutor isn’t convinced a crime has been committed, but he feels it’s appropriate to have an investigation? And he feels it’s appropriate for the grand jury to conduct an inquiry into an event or a set of circumstances? A grand jury is a way to bring witnesses before a body of citizens so they can conduct an inquiry.

A grand jury can also issue a report about a particular case. What would a report entail?

A report can be an analysis and a fact-finding document of what happened — with criticisms of what occurred and recommendations of how a particular agency could improve. So a grand jury can issue a report without indicting or issuing a presentment. Or they can do it at the same time that an indictment or presentment is returned. The grand jury has options.

How many cases can a grand jury hear on any given day?

They could hear two or three cases in a Tuesday, four or five cases in a Tuesday or sometimes one case. It depends on the case.

Has your decision to send the Stanley Gibson case to a grand jury caused any friction between you and Metro Police?

No. I meet with the sheriff once a month. In the last month or so, we’ve sat down four or five times.

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  1. What Wolfson leaves out that when a case is presented to a Grand Jury the prosecution doesn't have to allow any defense testimony. Based on this very lopsided approach grew the saying "You can indict a ham sandwich."

    This is important to note because, like a coroner's inquest the prosecution has sole control over what evidence the jury hears. (ie. The DA's office never told the Yant jury that he has been found to have committed perjury the previous week in another court case). But unlike the inquest process, what evidence the DA's office decides to report is never made public. This shields his office from any accountability while appearing to take the matter seriously.

    If the DA's recent decision on the shooting of unarmed Bernard Pate is any indication, he may just present Metro's whitewashed account, despite (like the Yant shooting) the complete lack of forensic evidence and witness testimony to back it up.

    And then if he's foolish enough to run for election next year, he will surely try to use this cowardly decision to boost his platform.

  2. "Sanson talks about the Gibson shooting"

    I have made this a personal mission to get involved because of my knowledge of this case. First of all Gillespie reported to the media that Gibson used his vehicle as a battering ram. This is a lie the same way he lied about Calvin Darling being a drunk driver who killed Officer James Mannor and that false statement cost Metro and tax payers over $125,000.

    WE both know that there is a lot of corruption in Metro lead by a corrupt leader who had two calls of domestic violence to his home, told officers to get the "F" off his property because they don't have arrest powers, and remove the call to his home from the Police Computer System or (SCOPE).

    So let me tell you what I know from Police Officers on the scene. Officer Jesus Arevalo knew of the plan to take Gibson alive based on sworn statements from his fellow officers, Arevalo was suppose to alert dispatch when he deployed an AR 15, ironically it is the same weapon used to kill Gibson. Whey didn't Arevalo used his side arm? Arevalo squeezed the trigger of the high power rifle not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, not five times, not six times, but seven consecutive times killing Gibson instantly to the back of the head (execution style). Officers on the scene had already determined that Gibson was unarmed. Officers on the scene already determined that Gibson had been picked up for a psychological evaluation, because they ran his plates.

    Jesus Arevalo was transferred to the Northwest Command recently because of disciplinary actions in his LVMPD Confidential Records, His fellow Officers stated the following "it is only a matter of time for Arevalo to have something of this magnitude, cause he walks around with a chip on his shoulder",, there were almost three dozen police officers on the scene that night. Arevalo was the only police officer that did not hear the command?

    We both know that Metro Radio System has been having problems from when it was first implemented over 2 years ago and cost tax payers $42 million. It takes the death of Gibson to finally realize the obvious? How many other deaths or misfortunate's has this communication system caused since its implementation? I would call for an investigation into this matter if this was the case. But I believe it's not, Metro does not want the public to know that there are killer cops in its force, because they know that they would be under the microscope and law suits would follow and this would also lead to pay cuts for all those Police Officers that are making over $100,000 salary annually and the last time I checked it was about 200 Police Officers and staff making that kind of money off the backs of tax payers. Not to mention all the cushy pensions that is associated with this.

    IF this was your son, brother, uncle, father in this same situation how would you feel?

    Enough Said!