As I concluded last week’s column, I mentioned the Nevada law that
pertains to use of deadly force, and self-defense as it applies to
citizens and police officers. It is very simple to locate the laws
that apply on the Nevada Legislature / NRS website.
NRS 200.140 Justifiable homicide by public officer;
NRS 200.130 Bare fear insufficient to justify killing; reasonable fear
NRS200.120†“Justifiable homicide” defined; no duty to retreat under
NRS200.160Additional cases of justifiable homicide;
NRS 200.190 Justifiable or excusable homicide not punishable;
NRS 200.200 Killing in self-defense.
After Metro (or any police officer takes action), the role of the
District Attorney is to determine if the case should be prosecuted
based on the elements of the crime (the law as it is written in the
Nevada Revised Statutes), probable cause, and ultimately, whether
there will be a good chance to get a conviction based on the criminal
standard of ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt.’ If the case goes to a
grand jury (i.e., the Stanley Gibson shooting) then there must also be
a determination of probable cause as reached by the grand jurors (this
is somewhat different and more secretive than a decision by the D.A.’s
office). The District Attorney has the ‘burden of proof’ and the
‘standard of proof’ is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
If the case gets to a courtroom and before a judge and jury, there
will be specific jury instructions that are provided to the jurors and
they must be followed. It is at this point that the standard of proof
becomes the most intense. The elements of the crime must exist,
including act, intent, and malice (or criminal negligence). I’m afraid
that the general public is generally uninformed regarding the
standards of proof in criminal as compared to civil cases.
Anyone can do a GOOGLE search of articles on the shootings of Treyvon
Cole (he was unarmed), Stanley Gibson (he was unarmed) and Lawrence
Gordon (he was unarmed). It is almost certain that civil lawsuits will
produce payments to the families based on civil law and the civil
standard of proof (preponderance of the evidence). The Cole settlement
was over $1.5 million dollars.
When the Review-Journal published their series Deadly Force in 2011,
the issues could no longer be explained away or ignored. The
involvement of the Justice Department (invited by Sheriff Gillespie,
if you can believe him) was also a contributing factor. This is how
our democracy is supposed to work. When information about a serious
problem (people getting shot and killed by the police) is exposed to
public scrutiny we can decide to get more information and make
I’m just not sure that everything has been explained to the general
public as well as it could be. If a ‘bad’ shooting does not rise to
the level of a criminal charge against an officer, then a civil action
or an internal disciplinary action could still be taken to address the
problem. I’m afraid that Metro has ignored or avoided opportunities to
improve because they don’t want to expose themselves to liability for
taking corrective action against an officer AFTER the ‘ultimate’
decision (to charge with a crime) did not happen.
If an officer was ‘cleared’ during the old Coroner’s Inquests, this
merely meant that the system found the shooting to either be
‘justified’ or ‘excusable’ and NOT criminal. If the inquest determined
that a shooting was NOT JUSTIFIED, then the District Attorney’s office
(or a grand jury) would still have to process the case and charge the
officer with a crime — if that was the decision. A great organization
would jump at the opportunity to fix a problem or at least try to
explore options to minimize the use of deadly force. The Crisis
Intervention Team (CIT) promoted by former Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody
is an example of an attempt to put the value of human life at a higher
level. The worst leadership is to deny and hide from the problem… to
put one’s head in the sand and hope that the media or the public does
not do their homework and expose things.
In the overall analysis, a ‘bad’ shoot by an officer could be
addressed by criminal charges, a civil lawsuit, or internal discipline
— which could include termination of employment. Officer Yant was
given a 40-hour suspension for his actions. At one time, the LVMPD had
suspensions of up to 160 hours, but an agreement was reached between
the administration and the police unions to ‘cap’ the discipline at 40
hours (or demotion, or termination).
The Nevada law regarding these topics is already on the books. If
Nevadans want to change the laws they can introduce legislation about
police use of force and see if they can change the law or even add new
laws regarding police use of deadly force. I’m guessing that we might
start seeing more claims of ‘criminal negligence’ for some of the
‘bad’ or ‘questionable’ shootings that Metro categorizing as
‘administrative disapproval.’ If training is not of a high quality, if
officers are not corrected or disciplined (even terminated) for poor
decision-making during training (i.e., they SHOOT when they should not
shoot in a Shoot-Don’t Shoot scenario), or if Metro hasn’t or isn’t
tracking individual officer performance on these reality-based
training scenarios, then I predict that civil suits will keep getting
more frequent and end in larger payouts.
We should not ‘force’ a criminal case to fit where it does NOT fit.
I’m hoping that, in the future, Metro and the D.A. and Judges spend
more time explaining just why police officers are not
charged/arrested/imprisoned — except in exceedingly rare
circumstances. Maybe the Attorney General can take a stand and at
least increase public awareness of how the system works. Officers
rarely go to work and put on their uniforms, start their cars, and
head out to handle unpredictable incidents with MALICE or criminal
intent. It is more likely that tactical errors or other
decision-making could rise to the level of criminal negligence.
Las Vegas will be better served to hold the emotions in check and to
put more time and effort into educating the community and raising
public awareness about such deadly force decisions. For example, LVMPD
officers have never been allowed to ‘shoot to wound.’ If an officer
ever stated, “I shot for his wrist because I wanted to knock the knife
out of his hand as he was charging me,” the officer would not be
following important policy to shoot ‘center mass’ to stop the threat
and protect his life or the lives of others.
If the laws are changed, then there may be different restrictions on
police deadly force; but until that time we will keep reading
‘explanations’ by the police department, the police union, or the
district attorney such as the following:
“We have maintained since (the night of the shooting) that the
shooting was not criminal,” Collins said.
Collins called the shooting a tragedy and said mistakes were made by
officers, but because there was no intent, he said the shooting was
“You must have intent to commit a crime. There was no intent… It was
police officers who were doing their job and a chain of events took
place that led to (Gibson’s) death,” Collins said.
Yant told the jury he feared for his life when Cole raised his hands
in a shooting stance during an evening drug raid on Bonanza Road near
That night, Yant’s narcotics unit conducted the raid. Yant testified
that he kicked open the bathroom door during the raid and saw Cole
squatting in front of the toilet.
The flashlight of Yant’s AR-15 rifle had just failed, but he said
there was enough light in the darkened bathroom to see Cole and his
Yant said Cole, who weighed almost 300 pounds, rose to his feet while
moving his hands forward in a shooting motion.
After Cole was shot, he was found clutching a yellow tube of lip balm
in his left hand. Police found no gun in the bathroom or apartment.
During the inquest, Assistant District Attorney Chris Owens noted that
the evidence — such as the position of Cole’s body, the downward angle
of the bullet through his cheek to his neck, and testimony from fellow
officers who did not hear both a door being kicked and a gunshot —
pointed toward an accidental discharge simultaneous with the door
Owens said Yant told the board his life was in danger during the
shooting. Owens added that shooting an unarmed man is an officer’s
“We never want to shoot an unarmed man,” Owens said. “But we have to
go with what we know and what his perceptions were at the time,” he
said of the board’s decision and Yant’s frame of mind before the
Chris Collins, who oversees the Las Vegas Police Protective
Association, said he didn’t see anything in the force board that would
warrant Roston’s termination.
Collins said Roston saw the man reaching under his seat and perceived
there was a weapon. Nevada law permits an officer to use deadly force
in that scenario.
He was concerned patrol officers will become hesitant to draw their
weapons if they’re afraid of losing their job.
“If Metropolitan officers are no longer going to use that standard,
we’re going to bury a lot of cops,” he said.
Should the police be held accountable for their actions? YES. Has the
process been satisfactory in Las Vegas? Not to the growing number of
citizens and officials who operate mostly based on media coverage as
the basis for their knowledge of the facts. I advocate that more time
be put into explaining the law and restrictions that are in place. We
will all be more knowledgeable as CITIZENS and more likely to see
improvements and save lives!
Next Week: Election of a Sheriff: Power, Protégé, Progeny
Norm Jahn is a former LVMPD lieutenant, who has also served as a
police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin, and has nearly 25 years of police
experience. Jahn now contributes his opinions and ideas to help
improve policing in general, and in Las Vegas in particular, through
his weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune.
As I concluded last week’s column, I mentioned the Nevada law that