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Proposal will seek to open Metro’s books on fatal shootings by police

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Steve Marcus

Metro Police Officer William Mosher testifies about shooting Erik Scott during a coroner’s inquest at the Regional Justice Center on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010. Two county commissioners will offer an alternative to the inquest system at a meeting Tuesday.

Updated Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 | 12:09 p.m.

Two county commissioners who oversee the Metro Police budget will offer an alternative to the coroner’s inquest system at the County Commission meeting Tuesday.

Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Larry Brown were still working out the details Monday, but Sisolak said the general idea would be to get all of Metro’s materials from an investigation of an officer-involved shooting and to disseminate that information to the public.

The system would not, however, use a public ombudsman to ask questions for families of the deceased, which commissioners approved earlier this year and, despite legal challenges, was upheld in the Nevada Supreme Court.

Sisolak said the system might work without the participation of the officer or officers who fatally shot someone.

“Ultimately the goal is to get everybody involved,” Sisolak said. “I think people have lost sight of the purpose: it’s to disclose information to the general public for the sake of closure for the families and the officers, and to get that information into a public forum.”

Sisolak and Brown will introduce their plan even as Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani urged commissioners to go with her plan to hold inquests with an ombudsman and a hearing master to oversee the proceedings.

Though Giunchigliani said she would like the officers involved in a shooting to participate, that wouldn’t be necessary. Like Sisolak and Brown’s plan, her plan for an inquest would circumvent an officer’s testimony by using Metro’s investigation notes and reports from the shooting.

More than a year ago, Sisolak formed a committee to make suggestions to alter the inquest system because of the large number of public complaints he had received about its perceived fairness. The system has long been seen as slanted heavily in favor of the police.

A committee came up with ideas such as an ombudsman asking questions for families of the deceased, something that had never been done before.

The Police Protective Association sued, however, saying the new system violated an officer’s right to due process.

A month ago, the Nevada Supreme Court rejected the union’s argument and said the inquests could go forward as long as a hearing master instead of a justice of the peace oversees the proceedings.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss Giunchigliani’s plan to change some wording in the county ordinance. She wants to take inquest oversight out of the hands of a justice of the peace and put it into the hands of a hearing master.

Monday morning, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and other supporters of Giunchigliani’s proposal held a press conference outside the County Commission chambers.

“We’ve had 30 years of shoddy and shameful dealings with (police shootings). There’s been no accountability,” ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein said.

“To go back to ‘We’re from Metro, trust us’...does not work...It’s unacceptable because of the number of police shootings that take place year after year after year,” he said.

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