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The Las Vegas Police Beat: Officer-Involved

  • Officers William Mosher, Joshua Stark, and Thomas Mendiola. Las Vegas Metro Police Department. Last weekend, at the Costco in Summerlin, Erik Scott got into an argument with some workers at the store. A Costco employee noticed that he was carrying a handgun in his waistband, so they freaked out and called the cops, then evacuated the store. Three Las Vegas Metro police officers — William Mosher, Joshua Stark, and Thomas Mendiola — rolled up and waited outside the store. When they saw Scott walking out of the store, they came up behind him and grabbed him on the shoulder and screamed at him to get down. He turned around and obeyed less than instantaneously, so the cops opened fire and stone cold gunned him down in the parking lot. The cops claimed that before they lit him up with 7 shots, Scott had reached for his gun in his waistband. Then, later, they claimed that he refused orders [sic] and instead withdrew a handgun and pointed at them.. Most of the witnesses, including a friend who was standing right next to Scott when the police gunned him down, say that he never did. A few witnesses differ — they say they did see him take out his gun but that he never pointed it at the cops. Metro said that Scott was ripping merchandise apart, kind of going berserk, and that they had received numerous 911 calls for his erratic behavior and reporting he was carrying a gun. Turns out that what actually happened is that another customer saw Scott opening up a box of aluminum water bottles putting some in his cart and some on the floor, in order to find out how many would fit in his cooler; when store security tried to confront him about it, Scott’s voice got elevated. A number of later 911 calls, provoked by the store’s panicky evacuation, recorded parts of the cop’s confrontation with Scott; the police have refused to release the 911 tapes. The Costco has surveillance cameras on the parking lot; the police took the tapes, but claim that they haven’t looked at them yet because of technical issues. The investigation of this police shooting by Las Vegas Metro is, of course, being handled by more police from Las Vegas Metro. There will almost certainly never be any kind of public trial; a coroner’s inquest hasn’t been scheduled, but will probably happen sometime in September. (There has been only 1 Clark County coroner’s inquest in 34 years that ever found any Metro police shooting to be neither justified nor excusable.) Meanwhile, the three cops who gunned down Erik Scott have been given a paid vacation from their jobs. The local newsmedia has been all over this story, mainly because Scott shops in Summerlin and used to be a tank commander in the United States government’s Army. Bill Scott, Erik’s father, has said that he hopes this case will draw attention to how many people Metro has gunned down: There are a lot of people who have been killed in Las Vegas, a lot of them by the police. They didn’t have a voice. This time, quote me: they killed the wrong guy.

  • Officer Bryan Yant. Las Vegas Metro Police Department. For example, one of the people who has been killed in Las Vegas was Trevon Cole, an unarmed man who police shot in the face with an AR-15 assault rifle in the bathroom of his own apartment, while his 9-months-pregnant fiancee, Sequioa Pearce, was forced to get on the ground and watch. Metro was in his apartment because they had forced their way in in an extremely violent late-night raid to serve a drug search warrant. (Trevon Cole was violently seized and killed because he allegedly might have sold marijuana to an undercover narc, a crime which posed no threat at all to any identifiable victim’s rights.) So late at night while Pearce and Cole were relaxing in bed, a gang of police wearing camouflage and masks smashed in their windows and broke down their door, blitzed into the room holding assault rifles on their terrified victims. Trevon Cole was surrounded by a gang of heavily armed, masked men, was obeying their commands to get down, and had put his hands up in the air, but Yant decided he’d seen a furtive movement, so he stone cold shot Trevon Cole in the face at close range in front of his terrified fiancee. Officer Bryan Yant had already gunned down two other people in his career before he showed up to shoot an unarmed man in the face; An inquest jury into Yant’s 2002 fatal shooting found the officer justified in his actions despite a serious discrepancy between his story and evidence at the scene. The shooting will be considered by another Clark County Coroner’s Inquest on August 20. In the meantime, Bryan Yant, who is being investigated to determine whether or not he murdered an unarmed man, is being given a paid vacation from his government job. Meanwhile, his buddies on the force decided to show up at Sequoia Pearce’s mother’s house in order to mau-mau the only surviving witness and toss the house looking for guns and ammo that aren’t there.

  • Officer Luis Norris. Las Vegas Metro Police Department. Another cop working for the local government in Las Vegas opened fire on an unarmed man this past Tuesday, for the crime of taking a shortcut through a residential neighborhood while the cop was Investigatin’. The man appeared on the wall while the cop was talking to a local homeowner about a possible prowler. Of course, all kinds of people live in a residential neighborhood (by definition), and all kinds of people pass through, so a civilized person might take this as a reason to shout What are you doing here? but Officer Luis Norris was packing heat and startled so he whipped out his gun and opened fire on this innocent man, who was not the prowler, was unarmed, had committed no crime, and posed no threat to anything other than the cop’s composure and poise. Thankfully, Officer Luis Norris is a bad shot: he missed the man he was trying to gun down in a moment of irrational panic, so his intended target lived through the night long enough for Authorities to later determine he was not a threat. Since Luis Norris just recklessly endangered the life of an innocent man, but didn’t kill him in the process, there will not even be a coroner’s inquest. Instead, Officer Luis Norris’s has been given a paid vacation from his government job, and eventually, his actions will be reviewed by the department’s use of force board, which may hit him with such serious consequences as a written reprimand or even firing him from his job. In case you were wondering, the process is not open to the public.

Las Vegas Metro is full of heavily-armed, twitchy, terrified cops who are easily startled and ready to open fire on helpless or harmless people at even the most furtive motion. Whether you’re resting in bed with your fiancee on Eastern and Bonanza, or going shopping with your fiancee in Summerlin to celebrate your new life together, or just talking a quiet walk through the neighborhood out at Desert Inn and Sandhill, there is a heavily armed force, patrolling 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, constantly ready to come down on you and gun you down at even a moment’s hesitation to obey their bellowed commands, or the slightest twitch that they don’t understand, or just for startling them. If they shoot at you, or even if they kill you, they will almost certainly never be held accountable for their actions; the worst that’s likely to happen is that they might lose their job, and what’s more likely is that they will be put back onto the streets to continue a long and storied career of killing unarmed people. We are told that we need this heavily armed, omnipresent, domineering, hyperviolent, completely unaccountable paramilitary occupation force constantly in our lives and at our throats in order to stop our community from being overrun by small-time possible neighborhood prowlers, by erratic men who take aluminum water bottles out of their boxes at Costco, and from black men who might maybe be willing to sell a bit of pot to willing customers. We are told that we need this heavily armed, omnipresent, domineering, hyperviolent, completely unaccountable paramilitary occupation force in order to keep us safe. But who will keep us safe from them?

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Don’t turn your back on the Wolfpack

The Las Vegas Metro police department has a new mobile gang of cops devoted to a saturation strategy in targeted inner city neighborhoods:

Before setting out, the team goes for dinner, and that’s where Palmer explains the mission of the Metropolitan Police Department’s saturation teams, or sat teams for short.

It’s an innovative, proactive approach to policing. Don’t handle calls for service. Leave that to the regular patrol cops. Talk to as many citizens as possible to find out who the bad guys are. Get people off the street who don’t belong, [sic] and maybe prevent a robbery or burglary, or worse, from happening.

We’re not worried about turning in tickets, he says. We’re trying to get the bad guys off the street.

— Lawrence Mower, Las Vegas Review-Journal (2008-11-30): Las Vegas police use saturation strategy to cool hot spots of crime; A bright light in a big city

Here are three things that you ought to know about how Metro decides who doesn’t belong, and how they get the bad guys off the street.

First, cops in the saturation team gangs pick and choose whether or not to come down on any given person who is breaking the law. They openly state that they make these decisions based on who they want to hassle and bust and pull off the street, and they openly state that they decide that based on where you’re from, how much money you make, and other proxies for racial and socio-economic status.

Sat team officers have to make constant judgment calls. They won’t pull over and arrest someone in Summerlin, for example, who doesn’t have bike reflectors. But if the area has seen a rash of burglaries, and the person on the bike has prior burglary convictions and doesn’t live there, they will. [Summerlin is a rich suburb of Las Vegas. –R.G.]

If you see a guy who jaywalks, and he’s a 42-year-old man who works at the Fremont casino and is heading home … shake his hand and let him go, Dixon said. If you stop a guy who jaywalks, and he’s a thug and he’s got a history of burglaries and he’s got a crack pipe in his pocket, you take him into jail.

— Lawrence Mower, Las Vegas Review-Journal (2008-11-30): Las Vegas police use saturation strategy to cool hot spots of crime; A bright light in a big city

Second, as you may have already guessed, if one of Metro’s sat gangs decides that you’re the sort of person they want to lock in a cage, rather than the sort of person they’ll shake hands with and let go, they will use any chickenshit charge they can make up in order to justify getting in your face, demanding that you explain yourself and justify your existence to them, and, if they aren’t satisfied, grabbing you off the street and throwing you in jail.

They use whatever laws are at their disposal: jaywalking, riding a bicycle without reflectors, outstanding warrants. They work together, swarming hot spots around the valley.

— Lawrence Mower, Las Vegas Review-Journal (2008-11-30): Las Vegas police use saturation strategy to cool hot spots of crime; A bright light in a big city

They use whatever laws are at their disposal because, of course, they don’t actually give a damn about the law. This is outcome-driven policing, and the law is just an excuse to bust the people that they’ve already decided don’t belong. That’s because the purpose of these teams is not to stop or respond to crimes; it’s to control people, and in particular to force the the socio-economic cleansing of undesirable people from the cop-occupied neighborhoods. For exmple:

It’s past 9 p.m., and officer Robert Boehm turns down a street near the Cheyenne Pointe apartments. He sees an 18-year-old on a bicycle rolling through a stop sign on a residential street.

The young man looks familiar. It’s because Boehm and other sat team members busted him the week before for stealing a BB gun from a Kmart.

Boehm says that BB guns have been the weapon of choice for making drug-related robberies right now.

He was released from jail just a few days ago.

This is the perfect example, Boehm says. What is he doing out here?

The man says he lives near Washington Avenue and Nellis Boulevard, about four miles away. His uncle lives at the Cheyenne Pointe apartments. He isn’t heading there or to his home, however, and can’t explain where he’s going.

Boehm searches him. No drugs. No weapons. But he is a person that is probably up to trouble, Boehm says.

He handcuffs him, stuffs his bike in the trunk of his patrol car and takes him down to the Clark County Detention Center. The charges are failing to obey a traffic control device and not having lights on a bicycle.

— Lawrence Mower, Las Vegas Review-Journal (2008-11-30): Las Vegas police use saturation strategy to cool hot spots of crime; A bright light in a big city

This kind of arbitrary rousting of someone, based on absolutely nothing other than a paper-thin pretext and the cop’s conviction that somebody’s probably up to trouble, is dignified by Las Vegas Metro cops and their sycophants at the Review-Journal as old-school policing with professionalism and an innovative, proactive approach to policing.

Third, here is how members of the saturation gangs talk about themselves to a sympathetic press:

The first week, the criminals were like deer caught in the headlights, he said.

Eyes opened, he said. Criminals said, Oh my god, what is this?

— Lawrence Mower, Las Vegas Review-Journal (2008-11-30): Las Vegas police use saturation strategy to cool hot spots of crime; A bright light in a big city

And:

Twenty people were booked this night during the shift. Nine were for felony crimes, including one for a stolen moped.

Honestly, best job in the world, Boehm says. I’m living the dream.

— Lawrence Mower, Las Vegas Review-Journal (2008-11-30): Las Vegas police use saturation strategy to cool hot spots of crime; A bright light in a big city

And:

We’re like wolves, officer Justin Gauker says. We travel in a pack.

— Lawrence Mower, Las Vegas Review-Journal (2008-11-30): Las Vegas police use saturation strategy to cool hot spots of crime; A bright light in a big city

Well. I feel safer already.

I should say that when I refer to cops as a street gang or Gangsters in Blue or what have you, I’m not indulging in metaphor. I don’t mean that cops act kinda like gangsters (as if this were just a matter of personal vices or institutional failures); I mean that they are gangsters — that is the policing system operating according successfully to its normal function — that they are the organized hired muscle of the State, and that the outfit operates just like any other street gang in terms of their commitments, their attitudes, their practices, and their idea of professional ethics.

— GT 2008-11-26: Professional courtesy, part 2: thugs on patrol

And let’s just say that Metro’s new roving wolfpacks have not done very much to make me reconsider that analysis.

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