Tuesday, December 04, 2012



The Clark County Commission will be discussing the coroner’s inquest process for officer-involved homicides on December 4, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. We need the Commission to pass a simple housekeeping measure to allow the inquests to proceed. The Commission needs to understand that the public does not want it to abandon or water down the coroner’s inquests for officer-involved homicides. The LVMPD has a very high rate of officer-involved homicides, and the public deserves to know the facts when a member of the community is killed.

Meet outside the County Commission building at 9:15 a.m. on December 4, 2012. We will have free t-shirts so you can tell the Commission: “Start the Inquests. We deserve to know.”

What is the inquest process?
In December of 2010, the coroner’s inquest process was reformed into a transparent, public airing of the facts when the LVMPD kills a member of the public. The 2010 reforms did not make the process adversarial. They replaced the jury and verdict with a panel and neutral factual findings. To help get at the truth and ensure fairness, they also provided for participation by the officers, family members, and the public. The reforms were responsive to widespread concerns from citizens and the product of a democratic process and public input. The Sheriff supported the reforms and they also had broad public support (including from PLAN, the Las Vegas NAACP, NACJ, and the ACLU).

Why haven’t we had any inquests since reforms were passed?
Unfortunately, the Police Protective Association (PPA) has fought the implementation of the new inquest process, trying to avoid transparency. The Nevada Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court of Nevada have both rejected the PPA’s arguments that the process violated their rights, finding that the coroner’s inquest is a fair process. The Nevada Legislature also refused to abolish the inquest.

How can we fix the inquests?
The Nevada Supreme Court recently held that justices of the peace cannot preside over the inquests under current law. The Clark County Commission can easily fix this technical, procedural issue if it has the political will to stand up to the PPA. The issue regarding who should oversee inquests was not part of the 2010 changes. The pre-2007 had hearing master, oversee inquests. Just like justices of the peace, hearing masters are attorneys. They already oversee non-officer homicide inquests and are qualified to preside over inquests into officer-involved homicides.

Why should the inquest be fixed?
The public deserves to know what happens when the LVMPD kills a member of the community, and transparency is needed to restore the trust between the LVMPD and the public. The County has spent significant sums of money and time on the 2010 reform process, to defend the inquest in court, and to lobby at the legislature. That money should not go to waste.

Most importantly, since the 2010 changes were passed, there have been 22 officer-involved homicides. This means that a total of twenty two families now stand in line waiting to learn the facts about how their loved ones were killed. Without an inquest, there is no way for families to get direct access to information about their family members’ deaths. The families and the public that employs police officers want and deserve an open and transparent process in place so they can assess the facts surrounding office-involved homicides themselves.

Is there any reason to wait?
There is no reason to keep delaying. While the PPA has appealed the case it lost in federal court to the Ninth Circuit, there is no stay or injunction in place and nothing stopping the inquest from moving forward. In fact, both the Nevada Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court have already determined that the process adequately protects the rights of officers. Even if the PPA continues to improperly refuse to allow officers to participate regardless of whether the officers have any right to the protection of the Fifth Amendment claim, the inquests can move forward. Enough other evidence—evidence such as dispatch records, other witnesses, reports, and even video in some cases—can tell the story of what happened.

No more excuses. Start the inquests. We deserve to know.

No comments: