In June of 1995, Las Vegas resident (and coin thief) Andrew Dersch was supporting his crack addiction by stealing buckets of nickels from elderly slot players. Dersch, who was captured doing just that by security guards at the Fremont Hotel and Casino. Dersch, who had a long list of priors refused to give his name, even when LVMPD officers Brian Nicholson, Robert Phelan, and Sgt. James Campbell arrived.
While trying to obtain Dersch’s identity, the three officers severely beat him and threatened to sodomize him with a police baton. The majority of the beating was captured on hotel security tapes, even after Campbell can be heard ordering a Fremont security officer to “Get rid of [the tape].” The officers were brought to trial, where the officers tried to argue that their police academy training instructed them on acceptable intimidation tactics, including threats to sodomize suspects with batons. Although the three were convicted, they were given a new trial when District Court Judge Lee Gates found that one of the jurors had mis-represented their criminal record during juror selection.
Rather than face another trial, Campbell and Nicholson pleaded no contest to the charge of conspiracy to commit assault with a deadly weapon, while Phelan plead guilty to obstructing a police officer and battery in a plea deal which called for the men to serve only 2 years probation and a few hundred hours of community service. However, Judge Gates disregarded the plea deals and sentenced James Campbell and Brian Nicholson to nine months, and Robert Phelan to six months in jail. All three defendants were allowed to serve their jail terms under house arrest.
Nicholson was also one of five Metro officers implicated in the 1994 New Years Day beating of Walter, Jim and Robert Bratcher. That beating resulted in a $325,000 payout by taxpayers.
Following the conviction more than 100 Metro officers, their wives and their children gathered outside the Clark County Detention Center and held a candlelight vigil in support of the convicted criminals. Among the supporters was patrol officer Jack Spencer who told the Las Vegas Sun it was not fair to jail three officers who betrayed their oath and beat a suspect, since the courts allowed robbers to get probation.
Campbell resigned from the department and Phelan and Nicholson were fired.
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