The recent decision not to prosecute four Las Vegas Metro police officers in last June’s shooting death of Jorge Gomez could impact tourists visiting the Las Vegas Strip, warns UNLV law professor Addie C. Rolnick.
“Business and tourism require a safe community,” Rolnick, a professor at UNLV Boyd School of Law, told Casino.org. “A safe community is more than police who respond quickly to crime.”
It also requires that members of the public feel safe from police and, at minimum, that police violence will be fully investigated and, where appropriate, officers will be held accountable,” she explained.
Rolnick, who studies critical race theory, added that “residents and visitors alike may be concerned that this is not happening.”
Her comments come a year after the May 25 death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The night Gomez was shot, he was taking part in a Black Lives Matter (BLM)-sponsored protest over Floyd’s killing.
No Criminal Charges Against Officers
Last week, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson issued a 79-page report in which he decided the four Las Vegas officers will not face criminal charges.
Gomez was legally carrying a firearm at the protest held near the federal courthouse located in Downtown Las Vegas, KLAS, a local TV station, reported. He allegedly ignored orders from officers and brandished a firearm in a threatening manner, according to accounts from police officers. He also allegedly attempted to flee on Las Vegas Boulevard, police further claim.
The four Metro officers fired 19 rounds at him, authorities revealed. He died from the wounds.
“Based on the evidence currently available … the actions of Sergeant Ryan Fryman, Officer Andrew Locher, Officer Vernon Ferguson, and Officer Daniel Emerton were not criminal in nature,” Wolfson said in a statement.
The … officers each had a reasonable belief that [the] decedent could cause serious physical harm to themselves, their fellow officers, and/or citizens,” Wolfson added. “Thus, the use of deadly force by the shooting officers was legally justified.”
He further points out a “killing is justified even if it develops afterward that the person killing was mistaken about the extent of the danger.”
A Metro police detective who reviewed the incident said that a video showed Gomez did not raise a firearm.
Shortly before the Gomez shooting, a separate shooting took place in front of Circus Circus Hotel & Casino. Metro Officer Shay Mikalonis was seriously injured in that gunfire as he apprehended unruly protestors involved in another BLM protest.
In response to Wolfson’s ruling, Rolnick said she was “not surprised” because “it is rare for officers to be charged in connection with use of force.”
This is partly because the law defers to police assessments of danger at the time, even if the officers are wrong,” she added. “It is also a question of prosecutorial priorities. While prosecutors in some cities have made it a priority to hold police accountable, the Clark County District Attorney has shown little interest in pursuing charges against officers, including most recently the failure to file charges against the officers who killed Byron Williams.”
“For both Metro investigators and the District Attorney to conclude the killing was justified by deferring to officer accounts, despite inconsistencies between the officers’ accounts and video footage, does nothing to assure the Las Vegas community that officers will be held accountable.”
Venetian Casino Chokehold
Rolnick also recalled Tashii Brown Farmer’s death in 2017 at Las Vegas’ Venetian Hotel & Casino. The family of Brown-Farmer agreed to a $2.2 million settlement in a case against Metro police in connection with him dying after an officer placed him in a chokehold.
Before the chokehold, the officer stunned him with a taser seven times, and punched him repeatedly, according to report findings. Rolnick said the chokehold incident illustrates the connection between Las Vegas Strip tourism and police violence.
Brown-Farmer experienced a mental breakdown in a casino, she said. The police response, in which casino security guards were also involved, escalated the confrontation and led to his death, she added.
LVMPD Has No Comment
When asked for comment about Wolfson’s recent report, a Metro police spokesman told Casino.org the “LVMPD is not making any comments regarding the DA’s decision not to criminally charge officers….” He referred questions to Wolfson’s office and the information in the report.
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