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September 23, 2014

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Review into 2012 Metro shooting death reveals gun-toting victim was highly intoxicated

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Paul Takahashi

Police have an area cordoned off near the Ross Dress for Less store at 2420 E. Desert Inn Road, where an officer-involved shooting occurred Monday afternoon, Oct. 29, 2012.

A shooting suspect killed by Metro Police last year had a blood-alcohol concentration quadruple the legal limit for driving at the time of the incident.

That was one detail unveiled this morning during a police fatality public fact-finding review into the death of 52-year-old Ronald Morrison.

The officer-involved shooting happened Oct. 29, 2012, behind a Ross Dress For Less at 2420 E. Desert Inn Road, near Eastern Avenue. Three officers — Michael Henry, Samantha Wimmer and Michele Iacullo — fired at Morrison after he walked toward them with his revolver drawn.

Morrison was struck twice and died from a gunshot wound to his upper left chest.

Metro Detective Sam Smith, lead investigator of the officer-involved shooting, gave the following details during the review:

Officers arrived just before 3 p.m. at the retailer’s parking lot after the Ross manager reported a shooting outside the store.

A homeless man later identified as 28-year-old Jason Harnish had been shot in the hand. Harnish told detectives Morrison approached him outside the store and asked if he wanted to eat some chicken.

The men began talking, but at some point, Harnish said he felt uncomfortable because Morrison was making “advances” on him. Harnish punched Morrison in the mouth.

Morrison pulled out a gun a few minutes later in an alley next to the store and started shooting until Harnish was able to wrestle away the gun.

Harnish eventually fled and headed southwest to the parking lot, while Morrison retrieved his gun and walked north out of the alley.

A police cadet spotted Morrison behind the Ross store and alerted officers on scene.

A civilian witness said he saw a female officer approach the suspect while ordering him to raise his hands, but the man kept his hands in his waistband.

Two more officers soon joined, at which time Morrison took out his gun and pointed it at police, prompting them to shoot, the witness said.

“He felt the officers acted appropriately and gave the suspect every opportunity to comply,” Smith said of the witness.

The police-involved shooting happened 12 minutes after officers arrived on scene.

The department later determined Henry fired four shots, Wimmer fired three shots and Iacullo fired one shot.

The investigation also revealed that Morrison’s firearm — a Smith & Wesson revolver — was empty because he had expended all rounds while shooting at Harnish.

When speaking with detectives, Morrison’s longtime girlfriend described him as an alcoholic who would be sober for periods of time before having “meltdowns.”

Morrison had been drinking for 10 straight days after losing his job as a slot technician, the girlfriend told detectives. An autopsy determined Morrison’s blood-alcohol concentration was .324 at the time he was shot.

Ombudsman David Fischer, a local defense attorney representing Morrison’s family who could not travel to attend the review, asked Smith why the officers didn’t try less lethal options first.

Smith said the situation escalated too quickly and posed a safety threat to both the officers and surrounding public.

“It depends on the situation you go into,” Smith said, describing officers’ decisions about what type of force to use. “You can’t use a model for every situation you go into.”

The fact-finding review lasted fewer than 90 minutes in the Clark County Commission chambers. Authorities said they made arrangements so Morrison’s out-of-town family could watch the review online.

Defense attorney Ozvaldo Fumo served as presiding officer. Chief Deputy District Attorneys Giancarlo Pesci and Robert Daskas questioned Smith on behalf of the state.

The District Attorney’s Office has not yet released its final report on the shooting.

This was the fourth fact-finding review, a revamped version of the former coroner’s inquests into officer-involved shootings.

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