There is a saying that the ‘cover-up’ is often worse than the crime. Translated into my words, “the cover-up” (or lack of corrective action) can be worse than the crime (or misconduct). So just how does a dysfunctional (even brutal) ‘culture’ in a police department form and persist? By definition, “police culture is a type of organizational culture that contains unwritten roles and social codes that dictate the way that a person within the culture will function, as well as building a strong sense of solidarity among the group and a will to conform.”
In my opinion, it forms when bright line rules are not established. It is formed when investigation and enforcement (after citizen complaints) is subjective and biased in favor of employees and they get away with violating rules and lying about it. It is formed when ‘internal’ complaints are also dismissed or when those trying to expose problematic practices (or even corruption) end up being targeted by their own agencies. As Sheriff Gillespie often prefaced his statements, ‘Make no mistake people…’ The LVMPD has developed a culture over time that they can do NO WRONG and don’t you dare question their actions! This dates back to the earliest days of my career when Larry Kepler (and possibly others) paid the price (complete personal vilification) for trying to get some attention focused on obvious problems!
My involvement in a new documentary (What Happened in Vegas) began almost four years ago. I was contacted by Ramsey Denison. He had been reading my columns or had heard about my situation. He then asked me to listen to his ‘story’ and if I could give him my impressions. The essence of his situation is that he had violated a golden rule (of Metro and other police departments). He had ‘pissed-off’ police officer(s).’ He had the audacity to get on his phone and report police misconduct (just like the man who Officer Derek Colling beat up a few years back). In the eyes of Treasure’s security and Metro officers who were on the scene of a prior call, this was CONTEMPT OF COP! I remember hearing these terms at different times in my career. The message was clear. NOBODY messes with Metro (and if it takes some ‘creative report writing’ to back up police actions this was almost a noble cause. There is even a documented and researched type of corruption called ‘noble cause’ corruption which essentially means that sometimes the ‘ends’ (law and order) justify the ‘means’ (violating policy and excessive force).
My takeaway on Denison’s experience with Metro led me to conclude that officers on the scene (and in the reports), C. Erskine, N Sylvia, K. Frett and security manager G. Millick, were present when a false arrest occurred. No — I’m not referring to the other man being ‘mistreated’ in front of a police car when Denison and his friend walked out of the club…that is another case that should have been investigated for excessive force. The people that turned their attention to Denison didn’t like what they saw him doing (contempt of cop by simply observing the police conduct and making a simple phone call to 9-1-1). The officers and security wanted him gone; so, apparently, without ever having a ‘representative’ of private property read the trespass law (and giving Denison a chance to leave), or taking the time to use verbal skills to defuse the situation (or wait for a supervisor to arrive) they decided to thump Denison and impose a bit of street justice! Let there be no mistake: there is also a ‘culture’ of cooperation between hotel and other security in Las Vegas which can be mutually unprofessional and destructive. A security officer should never have to worry about losing his job if he won’t ‘cover’ for a Metro officer!
I know exactly how this happens. When officers lose their temper they need to be investigated and held accountable — NOT given a free pass to do it again and again (and to prepare bogus reports). I’m not sure what they were teaching the ‘rookies’ a few years ago but the police cannot trespass anyone (with rare exceptions). I worked the Strip and other assignments where the most commonly used statute was trespassing. We knew this inside out and we knew the elements of the crime. Nothing in the official report of Denison’s incident (prepared by Erskine) shows that the police approach to Denison was anything other than a violation of his rights, a failure to follow police policy, and in the end it was use of force in the completion of a false arrest. Denison ‘pushed’ two officers and one officer had a scratch on his hand when Denison “began to flail, grab the handcuffs, and attempt to push the officers off of him.”
Denison was mocked by a responding Metro supervisor. Denison’s complaints to Metro were whitewashed. Did the officers ever give statements? Did security write a statement? Did anyone look at the video from Treasures? Did the other subject give a statement about his own incident or the one involving Ramsey? Denison explains how he reached out to the Internal Affairs ‘investigator’ (Michelle Jotz) in 2016 via social media and received a response. Everyone shows compassion and sympathy and acts professional AFTER the damage is done. Jotz responded that she collected facts and passed them on for decisions at higher levels. Lt. Chris Little wrote the close-out letter to Denison. Because of confidentiality, Metro never reveals the answers to these and other questions. They just write a form letter to the complainant which reads, “Based on the evidence drawn from the investigation, your complaint has been assigned a disposition of Unfounded, as the investigation established that the complaint of conduct did not occur. I would like to assure you that your complaint was reviewed with complete objectivity and fairness.” The last sentence on the form letter reads, “Thank you for bringing this incident to the attention of the Department. Your interest in helping us ensure we provide the best service possible to our community is appreciated.” What a crock!
Disappointed with his treatment and total lack of accountability (UNFOUNDED?), Denison decided to investigate further and he located me and he recorded me explaining my story. Over the subsequent years and months he learned other information that shocked him. His initial ‘mission’ to expose Metro for failing to do him ‘justice’ morphed into a hard hitting documentary that tells his story -and much more! One reviewer has described Denison’s documentary as ‘infuriating’ and referred to Metro’s culture as a, ‘cauldron of unaccountability.’ Many people will agree that there is a ‘rarity of critical news coverage’ of highly questionable police incidents. Metro still is riding a golden horseshoe that national attention has not been focused on police incidents and outcomes.
As I shared in the ‘trailer’ to the documentary which is now circulating on Facebook, “Bottom line, if you falsely arrest and harm a man (physically and emotionally) and then mock him (via supervisors and Internal Affairs) and if that man makes professional movies / documentaries and he decides to expose your corrupt system and practices… you PAY big time! Metro’s half-billion dollar budget can’t buy back what will be lost and their PR machine should have warned the pretenders about the consequences of bad publicity.”
I’ve received some initial feedback on the two statements I made in the ‘trailer’ (which do not capture anywhere near the entire content of the video). One person said I should be ‘ashamed’ and didn’t approve of me associating with others in the video (i.e. Bill Scott). Others had a different point of view and didn’t view this as a ‘betrayal’ of a badge but more as me sharing my story. Nobody that I know knew the content of the final product during the years this was being produced, and as of today I still don’t know how the final product turned out. Had Metro preached the ‘sanctity’ of human life and honorable and ethical policing back in the early 1980’s and followed through with corrective action over the past 30 years, citizens and tourists would not still have to worry about having a negative opinion about Metro and sharing their concerns. All that Ramsey Denison was looking for was an acknowledgement and an apology. Instead, he has gotten his ounce of flesh by exposing Metro!
Norm Jahn served with the LVMPD for over 21 years and achieved the rank of lieutenant. He also served as a police chief in Wisconsin for over three years. Jahn has been a university professor and also taught in the criminal justice program at the College of Southern Nevada for over a decade.