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July 23, 2014

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Mass resignations hit Metro review board; chairman cites sheriff’s refusal to fire officer involved in shooting

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Leila Navidi

Sheriff Doug Gillespie speaks during a press conference held by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Thursday, November 15, 2012. The press conference was regarding an eight-month review of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s use of force policies and practices.

Updated Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | 6 p.m.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie announced his decision last week: Embattled Officer Jacquar Roston, who mistakenly shot a man in the leg last year, would keep his job.

Since then, several members of Metro Police’s Use of Force Review Board — which, after a unanimous vote, recommended Roston be fired — have made their own decision: They quit.

Robert Martinez, co-chair of the Use of Force Review Board, submitted his resignation Tuesday in a letter to Gillespie, calling the process “flawed.” Four civilian board members also have resigned in the past week. Additionally, Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody, who served as the board’s chairman, retired from the department Friday.

Martinez placed blame for the resignations on Gillespie and the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the union representing Metro’s rank-and-file.

“Nothing will change as long as the leadership bows to the (union),” Martinez said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “That’s who is running the show.”

Martinez said the four other civilian board members who resigned are Glenn Rinehimer, Sandra Eddy, Jay Shafritz and Miriam E. Rodriguez.

The turmoil began last week when Gillespie said he would suspend Roston without pay for 40 hours and require him to undergo more training rather than terminate his employment. While responding to a domestic-violence call in November 2012, Roston mistook a hat with a metallic emblem as a weapon and shot an unarmed man in the leg.

Gillespie said Roston did not admit his mistakes to the Use of Force Review Board — made up of civilians and department members — but later did so during interviews with him and an internal board that reviews recommended terminations. The pretermination board recommended discipline, not termination.

In his resignation letter, Martinez, 57, said he was “saddened” by Gillespie’s decision, which Martinez believed undermined the credibility of the Use of Force Review Board.

The Use of Force Review Board has 18 rotating civilian members. Each case review consists of four civilians and three department members who can cast votes, Martinez said. The co-chair and chairman do not vote.

“That Jacquar Roston board participants were presented with investigative files containing comprehensive background information, employee interviews and other information and those involved freely, openly and candidly expressed and discussed their impressions and opinions and then made their recommendation,” Martinez wrote. “With all these facts and opinions as evidence, you decided to set that information aside and render a decision that again supports the employee and ignore the conclusions of members of the civilian population specifically assigned to scrutinize these matters.”

Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, quickly refuted claims the union had more sway over the sheriff’s decisions than civilian input.

“I totally disagree with them,” Collins said. “I think the sheriff and I have a mutual respect for each other … but we certainly butt heads on certain issues.”

In this instance, Collins said he thought Gillespie made the correct decision. He said Roston wasn’t outside the bounds of Metro, state and federal guidelines when he perceived a threat and shot the victim.

Collins also argued the Use of Force Review Board didn’t have all the information about the Roston case because the union wasn’t allowed to present its side during the meeting. The union, however, did present its side during the pretermination board hearing, he said.

“I believe (Roston) is sorry he shot an unarmed citizen,” Collins said.

As far as some civilian board members are concerned, though, the Roston case was simply the last straw.

Glenn Rinehimer, who resigned from the board last week, said he became suspicious of the process some time ago when he believed one case — which he declined to specify — was an unjustified shooting.

Rinehimer, 72, said a “stacked board” that included retired police officers as civilian board members outvoted him. The retired police officers had worked in other parts of the country before moving to Las Vegas, he said.

“The retired police just didn’t seem interested,” Rinehimer said. “They didn’t ask a lot of questions. They voted quickly for it to be justified.”

But Martinez said he was optimistic change was in the air because, around the time he became co-chair in March, the department banned former law enforcers or anyone related to them from participating as civilian members. The department also began allowing a civilian board member to respond to officer-involved shooting scenes, Martinez said.

It seemed to Martinez that Metro truly desired a diverse Use of Force Review Board and transparent process.

Then Gillespie rendered his decision regarding Roston, overturning the Use of Force Review Board’s recommendation.

“I was thoroughly fooled,” Martinez said. “I thought it was going to change and it isn’t.”

Gillespie hasn’t publicly commented about the Use of Force Review Board resignations, but late Wednesday afternoon, he announced that Assistant Sheriff Joseph Lombardo would replace Moody and assume the role of chairman of Metro’s Critical Incident Review Process.

The Critical Incident Review Process consists of two boards — the Use of Force Review Board, which examines actions by department members who used deadly force during an incident, and the Tactical Review Board, which looks at the actions of all department members who were present during an incident involving deadly force.

Both boards include civilian members and commissioned law enforcement officers who can serve four-year terms.

In a statement released by the department, Lombardo said his first mission as chairman would be to help the community understand the role of the Critical Incident Review Process.

“Each board is one of two impartial and independent investigative bodies, which review these incidents and make recommendations to the sheriff,” Lombardo said in the statement. “However, ultimately, the leader of any organization must weigh all recommendations provided and then make final decisions based on both recommendation and fact.”

Even so, Rinehimer said the sheriff’s decision to overturn the Use of Force Review Board’s recommendation doesn’t set a good precedent, especially for officers who find themselves in similar situations in the future.

Rinehimer said he believed the Use of Force Review Board should be a true “citizens’ board” — not one that is conducted in Metro conference rooms by department employees.

“At the end of the day, the officer might be sitting there smiling, knowing the sheriff might not fire him anyway,” Rinehimer said. “It’s a farce.”

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