Clark County DA Continues to Clear Cops Without Inquests

Wolfson Clears More Killer Cops

Even Those

Who Refused to Cooperate With Investigators

Clark County’s rookie District Attorney has decided once again not to wait for the fact-finding process known as the Coroner’s Inquest and has cleared five more valley officers for their roles in the separate deaths of Benjamin Hunter Bowman, 22, and Anthony Jones, 44.

Bowman was killed during a botched robbery attempt at the PT’s Pub at 2280 Nellis in November, 2010. The shooting was captured on video and witnessed by several patrons and employees of the Pub. All of which showed that officers Michael Franco, Phillip Zaragoza and Peter Kruse shot Bowman in a clear attempt to save the life of a female bartender Bowman was holding at knife point.

However the death of Jones is less cut and dry. Jones was killed, not in an attempt to protect the lives of the officers or the public, but in an attempt to restrain him. Jones was spotted driving without his headlights at 1:00am on December 11, 2010 by Officer Mark Hatten. After pulling over, Jones fled the scene on foot and was eventually taken down by Hatten and fellow officers Timothy English, Richard Fonbuena, and Steven Skenandore. The resulting attempt to take Jones into custody,  where officer Hatten and English Tased the suspect over a dozen times in two minutes, resulted in his death.

Current Metro policy prohibits Tasing subjects more than three times in a given encounter. That, along with recent court rulings that Tasers cannot be used simply as compliance tool make this incident murkier.

GIANCARLO PESCI Chief Deputy District Attorney

In the decision letter released today Wolfson’s  Chief Deputy District Attorney, Giancarlo Pesci writes Nevada law, “clearly states that homicides which are justifiable or excusable are not punishable. (NRS 200.190) …The homicide appearing to be justifiable or excusable, the person indicted shall, upon trial, be fully acquitted and discharged,” which is fine. However, since the only offense Jones had been observed committing was a minor traffic violation, the DA’s assertion that the killing was justified under NRS 200.140, ignores the felony requirement contained in the statute. That leaves us with the what is required to determine the Jones homicide as justified.

Pesci,  goes on to explain that there is no “factual or legal basis upon which to charge Officers Hatten, English, Fonbuena, and Skenandore,” which is not true. The report tells us Jones’ death “has been deemed a homicide by the coroner,” and officers Hatten and English’s excessive use of their Tasers were a contributing factor in that death.

That is all the State has the burden to prove here. In order to be protected un NRS 200.190 the killers are required by NRS 200.170 to provide evidence that their actions were justifiable  “Burden of proving circumstances of mitigation or justifiable or excusable homicide….The burden of proving circumstances of mitigation, or that justify or excuse the homicide, will devolve on the accused. (NRS 200.170)

This is something that the officers have refused to do. According to the statement by the DA’s office, all five officers refused to provide official accounts of their actions. Without statements from the officers, the DA’s office has held them to a lower standard that required by Nevada Law. This is not what Wolfson promised the community he would do when he took over the office after  the former DA, David Roger, left to accept a six figure deal to defend the members of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association.

Let us know what you think. Should Wolfson continue clearing cops before an inquest is held? Did he make  the right call here?

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Nevada Highway Patrol Officers Try to Derail Inquest

The District Attorney Says

No Criminal Charges Pending

Still NHP Troopers Seek To Avoid Inquest

In a plea filed today with the Nevada Supreme Court the five Nevada Highway Patrol officers involved in the August 2010 death of Eduardo Lopez-Hernandez asked the court to halt the May 3-4 inquest into his death. If inquest is not stopped by the NSC, it would be the first inquest held since the process was changed in December, 2010.

The process was revamped after two highly publicized inquests found two controversial shootings justified, resulting in criticism that the old system always favored police. Not a single police death had been ruled criminal in more than 100 inquests conducted since the process was adopted in the 1970’s.

The inquest jury’s finding of the Metro Officer Bryan Yant’s killing of an unarmed  Trevon Cole during a late night drug raid prompted the community to demand the process be  overhauled. Yant, an officer with a documented history of lying under oath, provided a version of events inconsistent with both the physical evidence and the testimony of other officers. Yant’s history of intentionally deceiving the court system was never provided to the jury despite a judge declaring Yant had provided testimony tantamount to perjury less than a week prior to the Cole inquest.

The Clark County Commission changed it in December 2010 providing the family of the person killed by police the representation of an appointed  ombudsman who would be given access to key evidence and investigative files. The commission also renamed the jury to an inquest panel and removed their ability to determine if the shooting was criminal or justifiable. The panel’s responsibility was changed to purely determining the overall facts of the case, nothing more.

That didn’t stop The Las Vegas Police Protective Association (LVPPA), which represents the majority of police officers in Clark County, from complaining the new system  is no longer aimed at determining the facts, but instead is an adversarial system pitting officers against the families of those killed. On behalf of several Metro Officers the LVPPA filed suit claiming the new process violated the Constitutional rights of its officers.

U.S. District Judge Philip Pro ruled in December of last year the coroner’s inquest system as revised is not a system that jeopardizes officers’ rights as it’s intended to determine the facts about a shooting, and not to assign guilt or innocence.

“The inquest is designed to be an investigatory body, not an adjudicatory or accusatory body. It does not adjudicate any legal rights. It does not recommend any particular action to any other entity, including the district attorney’s office. Whether to initiate criminal charges following an inquest remains solely within the discretion of the prosecuting authorities,”

-U.S. District Judge Philip Pro

U.S. District Judge Philip Pro

“The fact that officers may face reputational harms, may suffer adverse employment actions or may become the subject of a future civil or criminal proceeding are speculative collateral consequences that do not trigger due process guarantees.” Pro ruled

Pro also noted that police officers in essence investigate themselves in an officer involved death, and their favorable relationship with the district attorney’s office, one the average citizen does not enjoy, requires the police be subjected to different procedures than the public, “ensure both actual meaningful review of police conduct.”

The LVPPA appealed that decision with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but there has been no word yet on when a decision from the Ninth is expected.

Five NHP offficers, including Troopers Scott Simon, Heather Neely and Jorge Hernandez have petitioned the state Supreme Court to halt next week’s coroner’s inquest because “the new investigative process ‘performs an accusative function because it is designed to find specifically identified police officers responsible for crimes and to publicize their alleged wrongdoing.”

The Supreme Court hasn’t yet indicated when it will rule on the motion that next week’s inquest be halted until the issues about the new inquest process are fully litigated.

Clark County Coroner’s Inquest (update)

It’s been so long it’s almost

as if they never existed

With a backlog of more than a dozen cases, the  first coroner’s inquest in more than a year has been scheduled for early May.

The  May 3 proceedings will examine the 2010 death of Eduardo Lopez-Hernandez at the hands of Nevada Highway Patrol troopers.  Lopez-Hernandez was running into traffic on Interstate 15, trying to escape a violent mob that witness say were beating him a few moments before the Trooper tazed him. Troopers realized he wasn’t breathing and began performing life-saving measures, the highway patrol said. In spite of their efforts he  was pronounced dead at Sunrise Hospital a short while later.