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Group to propose changes to coroner’s inquest process

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Steve Marcus

Sheriff Doug Gillespie, center, attends a Clark County Commission meeting at the Clark County Government Center Tuesday, October 5, 2010. The commission voted to have a committee look into changes to the coroner’s inquest system, the fact-finding process that Clark County uses after a killing by police.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 | 3:05 p.m.

Changes to Inquest Discussed

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, right, makes a motion during a Clark County Commission meeting at the Clark County Government Center Tuesday, October 5, 2010. Commissioner Lawrence Weekly listens at left. The commission voted to have a committee look into changes to the coroner's inquest system, the fact-finding process that Clark County uses after a killing by police. Launch slideshow »

Change is coming to the coroner’s inquest system, the process Clark County uses to ferret out the facts of a killing by police.

By Dec. 7, a committee consisting of a retired state Supreme Court judge, and a member from each of the ACLU, the NAACP, Metro Police, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the police union, the coroner and a UNLV law professor will return to the commission with a proposed changed county ordinance.

The current process involves a county prosecutor picking witnesses, including the police officers, and questioning them in a quasi-judicial forum. At the end of the hearing, a jury panel decides if the shooting was justified, excused or criminal.

It’s controversial because parties outside of the police department have, for decades, complained they don’t get a fair shake in asking questions and they believe the district attorney is on the side of police.

All of it came to a loggerheads with two shootings in the last four months, one of Trevon Cole and the other of Erik Scott.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak asked that the group look at specific ideas: drug testing for officers involved in fatal shootings; allowing cross-examinations by attorneys for family members of the deceased, and potentially other parties; let attorneys for the officer ask questions; and at the hearing’s end, have no verdict. Instead, it would be up to the district attorney to decide if the case warranted civil or criminal charges.

“The goal of this is to arrive at the truth,” Sisolak said.

CORRECTION: This story originally reported the group would return to the commission with a proposed changed county ordinance on Nov. 7. It was corrected to Dec. 7. | (October 5, 2010)

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