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July 29, 2015

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County commissioner recommends changes to inquest process

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Less than 90 minutes after a coroner’s jury ruled the shooting of Erik Scott justified, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak was offering ideas about how to make the inquest process more fair.

Sisolak and Police Protective Association Executive Director Chris Collins appeared Tuesday night on “Face to Face With Jon Ralston” to discuss possible changes to the coroner’s inquest, which has been under scrutiny by Scott’s family and other critics of the process.

Scott was shot to death July 10 outside a Summerlin Costco store by police responding to a call of a man with a gun acting erratically and destroying merchandise. Scott was armed but had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Sisolak presented a handful of proposed changes, some of which he referred to as “more superficial,” such as having all future inquests televised.

Collins agreed with Sisolak.

But some of the more substantial changes presented — such as having officers tested for drugs and alcohol immediately after an officer-involved shooting — were not as agreeable with Collins.

“I don’t know how Metro or PPA would feel about it, but I think it’s reasonable to drug- and alcohol-test the officer after a fatal shooting,” Sisolak said. “On the surface, it would seem reasonable. Give me a reason why they wouldn’t?”

Sisolak said he was contacted by many people who asked why the officers were not tested.

Collins did not agree that the measure should be implemented, saying that officers’ contracts already call for drug tests in certain situations.

Collins said there is a “reasonable suspicions” drug test if a supervisor has reason to believe, through an officer’s actions, that he may be using narcotics, as well as random drug tests.

When asked what the harm would be in drug-testing after the shooting, Collins said he didn’t see much harm.

“I’m unaware of an agency in the United States now that does that,” Collins said. “I have all the confidence in the world that our officers are not abusing drugs or narcotics in any way.”

Another proposed change is to change the wording of county code to make it a requirement for a family’s attorney to submit a list of witnesses to be subpoenaed to the judge, effectively changing the code from “may provide the judge with a list of witnesses” to “shall provide,” Sisolak said.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to not provide it at the inquest...and then bring them out if we get to a civil trial later,” Sisolak said. “If you have some knowledge about this event... you should come forward at this time, not at a later time.”

Sisolak suggested there may be no need for a verdict at the end of the inquest. The jury can find a police shooting justified, excusable or criminal.

“This isn’t a trial; it’s a fact-finding,” he said. “Maybe we don’t need to come up with justified, excused, unjustified; maybe we just gather the facts and let the DA make the call.”

Earlier on the show, Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown announced his decision to run for mayor and also agreed that the process needed to be “looked at.”

“I think it’s incumbent upon the County Commission to take a look at the process, hear from those who are closest to it — the DA, the sheriff, the police association — and get a better perspective, because there’s nothing wrong with taking a look,” Brown said.

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