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December 17, 2014

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Video shows confrontation between Metro cops and bar patron, but police say there’s more to story

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Mikey McNulty

A file photo shows the Vanguard Lounge in downtown Las Vegas. On June 4, 2014, Metro Police got into a scuffle with a Vanguard customer, and the incident was caught on video.

In a blurry video shot about 3 a.m. June 4, seven Metro Police officers can be seen herding people out of a downtown bar, Vanguard Lounge.

The officers wanted people to leave out the back door of the narrow bar at 516 Fremont St. Someone had just been stabbed near the front door. They wanted to secure the scene and investigate the stabbing.

At the back of the pack, Officer Robert Glowinski talked with a customer and nudged him along with a hand on the man's back. The 1-minute, 32-second video has no audio, but the conversation appeared to get heated.

Glowinski grabbed the man's right wrist and swung him around toward four other officers. They struggled to restrain the man. While they tried hold the man's arms, a fifth officer, Kevin Kolkoski, jammed his nightstick into the man's abdomen three times.

Kolkoski fell to the ground, then hit the man a fourth time with his nightstick. After the final strike, an officer pushed Kolkoski away from the man and into the wall.

Capt. Shawn Anderson, who runs Metro's Downtown Area Command, acknowledged that the video “doesn’t look good” at first glance. But Anderson said there's more to the story.

Anderson said the man — whom a Metro spokesman identified as Dominic Gennarino, 21 — yelled at another customer in the back of the bar. Officers worried the man might get into a confrontation once he left out the back door.

“He’s mouthy, super-intoxicated,” Anderson said. “So (Glowinski) is making a decision that this guy is not going to go outside because he’s going to get into more problems.”

Chris Collins, executive director of the Metro police officers' union, said the video “isn’t a thing of beauty” but he said it looked like the officers’ behavior was not inappropriate.

“The problem with video is when an altercation takes place, you can’t see the guy’s hands or fists, or how hard they’re struggling,” he added.

William Sousa, a professor in UNLV’s Department of Criminal Justice, is an expert on police policy. Though not an expert in procedure, he said the video doesn’t show how much resistance the arrestee is putting up. “But when a decision is made to arrest someone, it is not an individual’s right to resist; police need to use force to bring that person under arrest.”

Anderson said Kolkoski, who had the nightstick, was surprised by the scuffle, watched the man's left hand move toward him and used the nightstick to hit him.

Anderson, along with a sergeant and lieutenant, reviewed the video and approved the officers' use of force.

Gennarino was arrested and charged with resisting an officer.

A changing downtown

Five years ago, tourists and locals avoided downtown. They considered it unsafe and stuck to the Strip.

But with the Fremont Street Experience, downtown has become popular again. More bars and retailers opened to serve the growing downtown population, creating some tension between the city and the businesses there.

Metro has had to shift more officers into downtown to keep the streets safe, a topic that recently came up at Metro's Fiscal Affairs Committee, which oversees how the department spends its money.

Anderson told the committee: “We’re seeing this type of massing increase so that more Fridays are starting to look like this, Saturdays are starting to look like this and even midweek we’re seeing it downtown."

Between noon and 4 a.m., on a typical day, 60,000 to 70,000 people visit Fremont Street. On those busier nights, those numbers “increase significantly.”

In response, Anderson and his officers started checking people's identifications before they entered the bar-zone, both in the Fremont Street Experience and in the first block of east Fremont Street, from Las Vegas Boulevard to 6th Street. That lasted a few months.

Now, Anderson has officers on foot patrol at night and more are down there on busy weekends.

In the last few months, the increased patrols have boosted the number of interactions between officers and downtown visitors. During the same period, use-of-force reports by police are up slightly from the same time period a year ago.

Anderson said from April 1 through July 14 this year, downtown officers increased their interactions with downtown visitors by 794 and increased the number of vehicle stops by 160.

Use-of-force reports during that same period increased by one, from four reports last year to five this year.

“To me, that’s really good news,” Anderson said. “Our overarching philosophy was to create an environment in which people feel safer. We’re just out there talking to people, sometimes they just need to know how to find the bus to the SLS.”

He added that a team from UNLV is also doing a study of downtown safety, surveying visitors and businesses on their perceptions of safety and police.

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