Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 | 2 a.m.
A grainy YouTube video shows a crowd of New Year’s revelers on the Strip.
As noisemakers buzz in the background, a man in a plastic top hat walks through the frame.
Then, there’s trouble. A snarling man cocks his fists. Another man shrugs off his jacket, and the two appear to be ready to start fighting.
Jackie Hubbard, a 28-year-old Californian, steps between them. Hubbard, a drink in his hand, says a few words. His purpose for intervening, he’ll say afterward, is to prevent a fight from happening.
But midsentence, he’s swarmed by a group of Metro Police officers, one of whom places him in a choke hold and takes him to the ground. As the scene unfolds, a voice from off-camera says, “This should be on YouTube.”
As of Jan. 9, it was. And now the video, posted under the title “New Years 2013 Las Vegas Police Brutality,” could become evidence in lawsuits recently filed by Hubbard and two of his friends. All three say Metro officers placed them in choke holds during the incident.
The video, taken by a stranger, is lucky leverage for the men in cases that could otherwise be hard to corroborate, said their attorneys, husband-and-wife team Amanda and Derek Connor.
No witness statements were taken at the scene, and police tried to cover up their actions, the attorneys allege.
All they have from Metro so far is a one-page arrest report for one of Hubbard’s friends, Rickey Ward, 29, that the attorneys say omits and fabricates facts.
“The systems that are in place by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police allow these officers who want to use their position to abuse people, or abuse their position, to basically keep it covered up,” Amanda Connor said.
Ward and Hubbard, both from the Los Angeles area, and Las Vegas resident Raymond Harmon, who is in his 30s, have recently filed separate lawsuits against Metro for the night they say left them physically bruised and psychologically scarred.
The men had just finished watching the fireworks by CityCenter when they saw the fight and tried to calm everyone down, Derek Connor said.
When officers grabbed Hubbard, onlookers shouted at them that they had the wrong people, Derek Connor said. When Harmon tried to protest his friend’s treatment, officers put him in a choke hold as well, according to the complaints.
Among other allegations, the attorneys claim officers kicked Hubbard, slapped a phone out of Ward’s hand when he tried to record the scene, yelled obscenities at Ward and told him that no charges would be filed if he said he fell during the altercation.
The only officers named in the complaints are Sgt. Tom Jenkins, a featured officer on TruTV’s “Vegas Strip” reality show, and Amanda Frey, who wrote the arrest report. No other officers have been identified because they are not named in the report, the attorneys said.
The arrest report offers a different version of events, alleging that Ward grabbed Jenkins from behind and was interfering with officers, prompting the takedown from Jenkins.
Police also say Ward was wanted for a probation violation at the time and was carrying marijuana that had been legally prescribed to him in California. Officers also found on the ground what they believed to be Ecstasy belonging to Ward, according to the arrest report, although no drug charges were filed against him.
Ward was on probation after pleading guilty in Clark County District Court in 2012 to a felony charge of using someone else’s identification, according to court records.
While the New Year’s Eve cases proceed through the court system, broader issues surrounding use-of-force situations are playing out in law enforcement and the courts nationwide.
The “he said, she said” nature of the cases, with each side presenting radically different versions of the events, is typical of use-of-force cases. Those cases can drag on, sapping funding from police departments and plaintiffs.
Increasingly, both sides are looking to video to protect themselves in court.
Many metropolitan areas, including Phoenix, Seattle and Oakland, Calif., are arming officers with cameras that show the incident from an officer’s perspective.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie recently said the department planned to test wearable cameras at two of the eight area commands.
First, though, he’ll have to raise $400,000 to start the program. He estimated it will cost $1.5 million and said Metro will use funding from property seizures to pay for the program.
The cameras could be a big advantage for Metro in the courtroom, said Christopher Blakesley, a professor at UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law School. In a case like this one, in which the officers suddenly emerge, a jury is unable to see how risky a situation looked to an officer in the moments leading up to the incident. A wearable camera would show everything and could help a jury understand why officers acted the way they did, Blakesley said.
Having a clear video could also stop lawsuits from being filed. Police will have a record they can show someone looking to make a false claim before they ever get to the courtroom. If the potential plaintiff has good counsel, their attorney will tell them they are going to lose, Blakesley said.
"Seems to me it would protect everybody and give the public some confidence," Blakesley said.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union created a free smartphone app to help people discreetly record interactions with police.
In the Las Vegas case, the kindness of strangers is the only reason the men have video.
The person who recorded the clip told Ward’s girlfriend how to find it on YouTube that night, Derek Connor said. Attorneys have been trying to reach the source of the video.
The plaintiffs are seeking general and punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and a jury trial. The complaints assert that the incident represents a systemic problem within Metro Police, where there is a “de facto policy” to “summarily punish persons in an unlawful manner without corroborating information, without rightful authority of law and by the use of excessive force.”
It is Metro Police’s policy to not comment on ongoing litigation.