Thursday, Dec. 16, 1999 | 11:48 a.m.
Does a bright orange piece of plastic on the tip of a gun -- the universal sign that the device is a toy -- mean a police officer cannot fire at a person wielding it?
After all, couldn't it be argued that a person could place an orange tab on the end of a real gun then fire real rounds on unsuspecting victims?
Those are questions that probably will be explored if a lawsuit that was filed Tuesday goes to trial in federal court.
The suit was filed on behalf of Peter Liriano, who at age 13 on Jan. 26, 1998, was shot while brandishing a BB gun in front of a Las Vegas restaurant.
Rafael Herrera was listed in the suit as the guardian of Liriano, who has Down syndrome, a genetic, chromosomal disorder.
The Clark County School District, Clark County School Police officer Anthony Russo and Jack Lazzarotto, the director of security for the school district, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Clark County School officials said they had not seen the suit and could not comment on it.
"We are aware of it and we will vigorously defend the district and its employees," said Clark County School District spokeswoman Mary Stanley-Larsen.
The suit says Liriano was walking near Fasolini's Pizza Cafe, 220 S. Decatur Blvd., carrying a toy gun with a "bright orange plug on the muzzle of the barrel."
An orange tab is placed on toy replicas of weapons by manufacturers to clearly distinguish them from real guns.
According to original Sun reports of the incident, Liriano was shot twice by a bike officer of the Clark County School Police and was taken to the University Medical Center, where he was listed in fair condition.
Metro Police, the agency that conducted an investigation of the shooting, said the boy was shot after pointing the BB rifle at officers.
The incident occurred about 11:30 a.m. when a motorist called 911 to report a boy carrying a rifle on the sidewalk on Decatur Boulevard across the street from the Meadows Mall.
The school officer heard the call and pedaled to the scene from Western High School a few blocks away, Metro Police said.
Liriano was soon surrounded by police in front of Fasolini's. Metro Police at the time told the Sun that the lever-action BB gun that Liriano was toting looked like a 30-30 rifle.
Metro Police said the boy was ordered "several times to drop the gun."
Josie Fasolini, owner of the restaurant near where the shooting took place, told the Sun shortly after the incident that she could see the boy pointing the rifle at the officers. She did not think the device was a toy.
"I looked out and saw a kid standing in front of the window," Fasolini said. "I thought he was going to shoot it in here. It scared the wits out of me. We all ran to the back. The next thing I knew, shots were fired."
Still, the lawsuit, filed by Las Vegas attorney L. Earl Hawley, says Liriano "did not pose a threat of death or grievous bodily harm" to the officers or anyone else in the area.
Metro Police said four shots were fired by the school police officer. Liriano reportedly was hit twice, once in the arm an once in the leg.