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October 1, 2014

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At news conference, undersheriff recounts events that led off-duty officer to shoot suspect near Excalibur

An off-duty Metro Police officer only shot a California man Sunday night after the man refused several orders to get out of the officer's family vehicle at the Excalibur, police said today at an afternoon news conference.

The man, 27-year-old Saul Villegas, was shot in his left wrist, treated at a local hospital, and booked into the Clark County Detention Center. He’s been charged with one count of attempted grand larceny and one count of auto burglary.

At police headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Undersheriff Jim Dixon gave a moment-by-moment account of what led to the unusual shooting:

Officer Bernard Plaskett, 54, a 21-year Metro veteran, was unloading packages from his family's 2007 Land Rover at the Excalibur around 9 p.m., with his wife and 15-year-old son.

When Plaskett, his wife and son were at the rear of the vehicle greeting family and unloading packages, Villegas got into the driver's seat and closed the door. Plaskett's wife heard the door shut, walked to the open passenger-side door and told Villegas to get out.

"I'm taking this car," Villegas is said to have replied. "Get in. Let's go for a ride."

Plaskett’s wife told her husband a man was in the vehicle and she believed he had a gun. Plaskett went to the passenger-side door, too, told Villegas this was not his car and told him to get out. By this time, Villegas had turned on the ignition.

Plaskett had earlier put his duty weapon between the front seats of the vehicle. Afraid Villegas would spot the gun, Plaskett pretended to reach for the key in the ignition, then quickly reached down and grabbed the pistol.

Pointing his weapon, he identified himself as an officer and ordered Villegas out.

Villegas didn't move.

Plaskett asked a second time.

"Villegas does not comply," Dixon said. "Then he said louder, 'I am taking this car.'"

Villegas then dropped his left hand below his waist. Believing he might be going for a gun, Plaskett fired and hit Villegas' left wrist. Villegas was apprehended and taken to the hospital.

Asked if the officer was aiming for the wrist, which was on the opposite side of Villegas' body from Plaskett, Dixon said officers are trained to shoot for "center mass."

"In this case, I can't tell you what the officer was thinking when he shot," Dixon added. "I don't know if he was aiming at the wrist."

Metro had earlier this week described Villegas as having "diminished capacity. Dixon said that description came as a result of Villegas' reaction to Plaskett's orders.

"From what I understand, the individual responded slower than you or I would respond," Dixon said, adding that he did not have any information about Villegas' medical background.

Plaskett remains on paid administrative leave while investigation into the incident continues.

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