Las Vegas Sun

July 27, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

DA’s decision not to prosecute Henderson officer will erode confidence in police

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J. Patrick Coolican

New Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson was met with an early test when confronted with whether to prosecute Sgt. Brett Seekatz, the Henderson police officer seen on video kicking a man in the head while he’s restrained.

It turns out, the man was innocent and suffering a diabetic episode, and the ugly incident cost the city of Henderson more than $250,000 in a settlement with the man and his wife.

Wolfson decided not to prosecute. I don’t envy him, having to make a tough call less than two weeks into a new job.

But his decision will further erode the community’s already flagging confidence in police agencies while stoking a long-held belief that there are two sets of rules, one for police officers who kick people in the head and another for the rest of us.

Here was Wolfson’s first rationale, to the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “I’m troubled by the conduct that was displayed in the video ... but I don’t think it’s in the community’s best interest to file a charge because it’s so long after the incident.” Whatever that means.

Later, in a tough interview with my colleague Jon Ralston on “Face to Face,” Wolfson fleshed out his answer. He said he was “equally as troubled” and “shocked” as the rest of us by the kicking in the head.

He noted that the statute of limitations on a misdemeanor battery charge had passed, making a prosecution on that charge impossible.

As for a felony charge, Wolfson said, “I have to feel comfortable that I can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” he said.

Fair enough.

He pointed to previous cases of alleged police brutality in Southern Nevada in which juries didn’t convict. In one case he was the defense lawyer for a police officer.

(Yes, in private practice he defended police officers.)

Wolfson told Ralston he consulted with “senior lawyers” in the office to make his decision. Let’s not forget, these senior lawyers all recently worked for Wolfson’s predecessor as district attorney, David Roger, who is now the attorney for the Las Vegas Police Protective Association. That’s the police union.

Anyway, just because juries haven’t convicted police officers accused of police brutality, does that mean we’ll never bring charges against an officer ever again? What message does that send?

Also, unlike the other cases, this has video evidence.

Wolfson said he could prove the kicking in the head but not criminal intent. Apparently sometimes there are perfectly valid and legal reasons to kick someone in the head. I learn something new every day.

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