A. One Spilled Drink, Four Bruised Egos, Two arrests…
and a $1,000,000 Settlement.
Q. What Happens When SWAT Officers Go Out Drinking.
A confrontation between two tourists and four off-duty Metro officers ended up costing taxpayers $900,000 after the four officers sought revenge for their bruised egos and conspired to have two innocent visitors arrested.
Juan Berry and James Suggs, cousins visiting Las Vegas to attend a family member’s wedding, were just trying leaving the Drink! a nightclub at the corner of Harmon and Koval, which has since closed when their lives were changed by four cops who acted more like petulant frat boys who owned Las Vegas than the public servants they were. Berry, a corrections officer in a Minnesota prison, and Suggs, who worked for pharmaceutical company in Kentucky, had visited the nightclub after the rehearsal dinner in May 1997.
The Drink! was one of the more popular club in Las Vegas but unfortunately for the cousins it was there they encountered Jerry Montes, Mark Mills, Rick Klein, and Bob Lewis, four off-duty SWAT officers who were at the club with dates. An altercation unfolded in the club after the officer’s became irate over a spilled drink. The fight spilled out into the parking lot where it was broken up by security guards.
One of the officers had called the police dispatch operators and Metro send some on-duty officers to arrest the cousins. The four told the arriving officers that Berry or Suggs had battered them with beer bottles and an assortment of other lies. The responding officers handcuffed Berry and Suggs and interviewed them as well as the SWAT officers.
Berry and Suggs claimed, the SWAT officers continually taunted them and even yelled at the on-duty officers. They said one SWAT officer called them “niggers” and that another continually made a gesture at them, pointing as though he had a gun and was pulling the trigger. The three on-duty responding officers later confirmed the SWAT officers threatened the cousins.
A supervisor, Sgt. Steve Custer, eventually arrived and was appalled at how his fellow officers were conducting themselves. When he retired, Custer recalled the incident, saying the behavior he witnessed from the four SWAT officer made him feel ”embarrassed as a police officer” because of the off-duty SWAT officers’ “unprofessional behavior.”
“They were belligerent. … They were drunk,” Custer said of his colleagues. Custer described Berry and Suggs as “calm,” “professional, polite and cooperative.”
Though the SWAT officers demanded that the cousins be charged with felonies, Custer concluded that neither man would be arrested because there was no evidence of an assault. The cousins were sent on their way. After attending the wedding, they both returned home.
They hadn’t heard the last of the four rogue cops. A little more than a week later, Montes and his date, Rene Madrid, met with Bob Rogers, at that time a detective in the department’s Administrative Detail. During the next 10 days, Rogers conducted a second investigation that culminated in Berry and Suggs being charged with felonies. During the probe, Rogers interviewed the SWAT officers, but never spoke with Berry, Suggs or the on-duty officers who responded to the incident.
The district attorney’s office did not grant approval to extradite Berry and Suggs from across the country. But police entered the cousins’ names in a national database that would cause them to be arrested upon contact with law enforcement officers anywhere in the United States.
Berry was arrested in July 1997 in Minnesota and jailed for three days. He was released after Nevada authorities declined to extradite him. Three minutes after Berry’s name was cleared from the database, Rogers re-entered it, a move that could have resulted in Berry being arrested on the same charge for which he had already secured his release. Rogers never explained why the name was re-entered.
After learning of the charges, Suggs flew to Las Vegas and surrendered to police, was booked into jail and immediately released. A justice of the peace later dismissed all the charges against Berry, and the district attorney’s office declined to pursue the charges against Suggs.
The cousins filed the lawsuit in 1999, naming the department, Rogers, Montes and Madrid as defendants. Montes and Madrid eventually settled for undisclosed amounts of money, according to attorneys.
The $900,000 settlement under consideration next week would end the litigation against Rogers and the department.
Mills made headlines again in 2002 when he and his fellow SWAT officers were serving a search warrant on a home suspected of selling methamphetamine, During the raid Mills shot and injured Enrique Gonzalez. He recently retired after returning from Afghanistan where we was participating in a an overseas Police Mission as an embedded police mentor. He is now an instructor with TAC*ONE Consulting in Golden, Colorado.