It will probably take a few columns to properly address an issue that
is clearly highlighted by the fatal shooting of Sharmel Edwards on
April 21, 2012. If properly reviewed, this shooting could lead to
changes that may save lives in the future. I don’t intend to judge the
individual officers who fired their weapons that night, but many
‘objective’ reviewers would NOT agree that it was necessary for five
officers to fire at Edwards to ‘stop the threat’ which resulted in her
death. People, including police professionals, are entitled to strong
opinion that steps could have been taken to prevent the TRAGIC outcome
and that recommendations should be immediately incorporated into
future responses by the LVMPD. Isn’t it fair to ask if this type of a
shooting has occurred in Phoenix or Los Angeles or San Diego or
What if we decided who will be our next sheriff by asking for the
candidates to write a review of the police actions by the LVMPD in the
Edwards incident? Now that would be quite the job ‘interview’ for
Moody, Burns, McCleery, Martines, Gronauer, and Lombardo, wouldn’t it?
The voters would be more informed about what actually happened and be
able to support the next sheriff based on his responses (i.e.,
attempts to prevent vs. forced compliance).
Unfortunately, there are some people who would not even consider
Edwards’ death ‘tragic’ at all. She was a college-educated mother of
two teens. She worked in the mental health field. She was only 49
years old and had only a minor criminal record, if any. She took her
boyfriend’s car for a ride and ended up dead. Advocates of this police
‘shoot’ argue that since she failed to exit the car upon command, and
then exited while holding a gun, she deserved what happened to her.
They don’t seem to ‘get it’ because I don’t remember my chosen
profession ever allowing me to deliver the ‘death penalty’ for failure
to follow commands. That is not consistent with any training I ever
received or any laws that I ever studied.
I was taught that I could protect my life or the lives of others as a
last resort (preclusion) if imminent jeopardy of death or great bodily
harm existed. If I had a solid wall for ‘cover’ and a suspect came out
of a vehicle with a gun and did not drop it, I never felt that I was
REQUIRED to shoot! It will be incredibly important for the next leader
of the LVMPD to change the culture of the organization by emphasizing
that just because you CAN use deadly force does not mean that you
SHOULD use deadly force. I never felt that I was REQUIRED to fire at
the suspect even if he/she pointed the gun directly at me or even if
he/she fired rounds at me where I was protected by cover! Even if I
was alone facing down the suspect… I think I would know when I was
ALLOWED to shoot, but I might not shoot depending on lots of
circumstances that probably would be racing through my head.
There seems to have been minimal publicity of this shooting. I don’t
know how that happened just four months after the Stanley Gibson
shooting. The fact is there were plenty of officers on the scene.
There was plenty of time leading up to the final actions. There were
two dogs at the scene. There were probably a dozen low-lethal shotguns
at the scene. There may have been a ballistic shield at the scene or
one that could be brought quickly. There was a helicopter hovering
over the scene. The car was not moving. There was no reason for anyone
to believe that Edwards would exit with a gun or move in the direction
of the closest officer. And just how close were the officers? As
compared to when I was a ‘new’ police officer in 1983, today’s
officers have Electronic Control Devices, Low-Lethal Shotguns, and
RIFLES! I’ll discuss the use of rifles (one was used in this shooting)
in a future column.
Again, I’m not writing to judge the officers. If any of them walked up
to Edwards’ dead body and saw the end result of this use of deadly
force (Edwards’ half-naked body on the ground), or if any of them
viewed the autopsy in person (or even viewed autopsy photos) I am sure
that it will have an impact and cause introspection. I am tremendously
bothered by just ‘reading’ the results of the autopsy!
I may not be judging the officers, but I am judging the police
department and every citizen in Las Vegas should do the same. Looking
at the ‘big picture,’ what can the LVMPD do to prevent this type of
tragedy? The officers have already been ‘judged’… all five of them
have been ‘cleared’ of any criminal conduct by the District Attorney.
Additionally, all five officers have also been cleared by three other
levels: 1.) the FIT/Homicide report; 2.) the CIRT/Office of Internal
Oversight report, which examined Communication, Officer’s Approach,
Tactics and Use of Force, and Supervision (Command & Control); and 3.)
LVMPD Use of Force Board and Sheriff Gillespie.
All actions taken by the officers have been ‘approved’ and there was
no discipline or training recommended. There was no finding of
wrongdoing and no policy failure. So with such a ‘unanimous verdict,’
why should anyone care to assess this incident outside of the LVMPD
and the District Attorney’s Office? Because this shooting did NOT need
to happen the way it happened! Every police officer working for the
LVMPD needs to learn lessons from these incidents — not ignore them.
The new ‘reality-based training’ for officers should involve a
scenario that replicates this exact shooting.
I have considered what the outcome may have been if some of my own
academy classmates from 1983 and I had ever handled this type of
incident. Yes; if former Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody, former Assistant
Sheriff Greg McCurdy, former Lieutenant Ted Lee, and former Lieutenant
Ted Snodgrass and I had handled this incident (supported by other
officers and supervisors)… I am quite certain that Sharmel would not
be dead! I do not believe all five of us would have fired on Edwards
in 1983, so then why is it that five officers fired simultaneously at
a woman nearly 30 years later with greatly improved training and
tactics and equipment? One officer even used a high-powered rifle. My
academy did not come from the ‘video game’ generation. We didn’t ever
earn ‘points’ for stopping power. I don’t think we were desensitized
to the consequences of pulling the trigger. Shouldn’t we expect MORE
and BETTER after 30 years of time to improve and become more
professional and controlled?
In future columns, I’ll review the completed investigation and analyze
this incident from a different perspective. Metro needs to take action
now… how about assigning ‘designated shooters’ (like one or two of
them and telling other officers to hold their fire)? How about
restricting the weaponry used when officers have time to prepare and
tactical advantages such as cover to protect them from harm and delay
the need to respond immediately?
At this point, the questions should be: 1.) Could Sharmel’s life have
been SAVED? 2.) What changes need to be implemented to increase the
chances of saving lives instead of obliterating a body with bullets?
3.) Is a new Metro sheriff willing to think outside the box and find
new concepts and tactics to minimize the loss of life?
Isn’t this, in fact, the highest level of excellence from a police
department? Why should we settle for less? And how many people in Las
Vegas have considered this? Sharmel Edwards could have been your
mother, sister, or girlfriend.
You (the reader) are a police or security officer. Your adult sister
(or a loved one) takes your car from your residence late at night. You
know she has been drinking and you know that you left your handgun in
the passenger compartment. You wake up concerned about your missing
vehicle and the weapon that is now accessible. You call the police to
report a vehicle TAKEN WITHOUT CONSENT! It is not a stolen vehicle
(certainly not Grand Larceny Auto taken by a stranger). The crime
‘Taking a Vehicle Without Owner’s Consent’ is a GROSS MISDEMEANOR and,
standing alone, this is not a high risk incident. There are probably
hundreds (maybe more) of these crimes reported every year and I’m
guessing prosecution is rare. The owner simply wants his/her car back
in one piece and, once it is confirmed that a relative/girlfriend took
the car and it is recovered, the report is cancelled; nobody gets
arrested, and it would certainly be rare to see a full prosecution and
conviction for this PROPERTY CRIME. It is highly possible that Sharmel
Edwards would not even have been arrested had she exited the car that
So now we have a ‘property crime’ and the police would not even be
allowed to pursue the vehicle (because it is only a property crime)
and the police have been given the name of the person (i.e., Sharmel
Edwards) suspected to be in the car. Now add to this scenario the fact
that the caller wants to let the police know that a firearm is in the
vehicle. This is good information for officer safety, but did the
dispatchers on the night in question further inquire as to whether
your sister (i.e., Sharmel) knew the gun was in the car and where it
was located? Was the caller asked if she knew how to use the gun and
if she had ever fired it? Was the caller asked if the suspect was
depressed/suicidal, mentally ill, or mentally challenged? I don’t know
most of these answers from just reading the reports, but there is no
indication that any of these conditions applied to Sharmel Edwards.
The boyfriend did report that they had been drinking, he did report
that they had been in the hot tub, and he did report that he had
fallen asleep and woke up to find his car missing.
Let’s continue with this scenario — your ‘sister’ is spotted within
two hours of the vehicle being reported “stolen” (taken without
consent). The officers wait for a helicopter before making a ‘felony’
or ‘high risk’ car stop. Most likely, they know the name of the
suspect and are informed of the handgun that was in the vehicle. A
traffic stop is initiated and the vehicle pulls into a parking lot
showing compliance. Sharmel Edwards might still be alive if she had
simply attempted to flee and Metro called off any possible pursuit
because of the fact that this was a property crime with a known
suspect. She might still be alive if she had simply refused to ever
get out of the car and the SWAT team used tactics to remove her. Did
the police assume that a weapon would be used against them simply
because one is in the car or was the presence of the weapon brought to
the attention of Sharmel by the police themselves?
Now that your ‘sister’ is in a parking lot (no longer a danger to the
public) and the police give her ‘commands’ to follow, she does comply.
She rolls down her window and places her hands outside. For whatever
the reason, she then fails to exit her vehicle. As more commands are
given, and more officers arrive to what is now considered a
‘barricade’ incident involving a vehicle, the action is slowed and the
stationary incident is evaluated. There is a Crisis Intervention Team
officer called and he attempts to communicate with your sister for the
next 30 minutes. One of the sergeants on the scene calls you to find
out more information to assist ‘negotiations’ at the scene. Nobody
knows why your sister will not exit the vehicle.
All of a sudden (according to conflicting officer AND witness
statements) your sister exits the car and takes a few steps with a
firearm in her hands. She ends up dead by the left rear tire, so she
could not have walked very far or very fast. There is disagreement on
whether the gun was pointed with both hands stretched out front
(presenting the most danger to officers) or cradled in both hands near
her chest (presenting the least danger to officers). The fact is that
numerous officers were present at different vantage points and had
their weapons pointed at the car. A December 15, 2011 article in the
Review-Journal addressed the Stanley Gibson shooting. The reporter
wrote, “But why were so many officers still aiming their weapons at
Mr. Gibson at close range after half an hour, prepared to use deadly
force when he clearly wasn’t going anywhere?” Isn’t this a valid
question even though only one officer (Jesus Arevalo) fired a rifle
(seven times) at Gibson?
We may never actually know how many officers had their weapons pointed
at Edwards, but we do know that five fired. This essentially blew her
apart! There were 17 rounds fired with six coming from a rifle and two
rounds of buckshot coming from a shotgun! I believe that means that 31
projectiles were directed at Edwards (I mean, at your sister) who is
now lying dead in a parking lot and is no longer a “deadly threat” to
the lives of multiple officers.
That kind of “response” needs to be stopped — permanently.
NEXT WEEK: Details, Investigative Findings, Justification for Deadly
Force, Analysis of Options
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.
It will probably take a few columns to properly address an issue that