Las Vegas Sun

April 26, 2018

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Woman’s death threats cited in civil rights trial testimony

Metro Officer Steve Leyba likened Brenda Nadell to a "ball of fire" who hurled death threats at him and two other officers the July night in 1994 during which the woman contends police violated her civil rights.

Leyba also countered attempts by Nadell's attorney, Curt Obront, on Monday during the federal trial's first day of testimony to imply that police provoked the hostile situation four years ago. The young woman contends police bruised her arms, legs and head in the confrontation.

The officer was expected to return to the stand this morning. He may address about two dozen photographs taken by Metro's Internal Affairs Bureau of Nadell's injured body, which Obront submitted on Monday as evidence of the officers' alleged wrongdoings.

Nadell and her husband, Brian, named the Metro Police Department, Leyba and Officers Michael Etherton and Greg Ziel in the lawsuit, filed in 1995, accusing police of unjustifiably beating and arresting the woman on July 22, 1994.

Ziel, then just three weeks out of the academy, was being supervised by Etherton the night they were dispatched to the house at 5464 Consul Ave., near Sahara Avenue and Nellis Boulevard, on a report of a domestic dispute.

Ziel and Etherton in their testimony recalled seeing the home's living room window busted out, shards of glass littering the patio and a man later identified as homeowner Michael Laing outside sweeping up the mess.

Both officers said Laing invited them into the house, eventually telling them at some point during the conversation that his wife had earlier punched her hand through the window.

The officers claim that Laing didn't immediately tell them that his wife had been transported to University Medical Center almost 45 minutes before their arrival. They justified their actions during those first few minutes inside the house as foundation for an investigation to figure out what happened during the domestic dispute and determine if any victims needed medical assistance.

"There was blood on the window sill, on the couch, in the doorway," Ziel said. "It was in splatters and pools. You could see it down the sheet of glass."

Ziel also remembered seeing several bottles of liquor surrounded by nearly empty glasses on a nearby table.

The two officers were in the living room when a woman, later identified as Nadell's sister, Crystal Guerre, abruptly got up from the couch holding a baby and walked out of the living room, saying nothing.

Etherton said Laing gave him permission to follow the woman and the baby. Both the woman and child were splattered with blood. Etherton started down the hallway, ordering Ziel to remain in the living room with Laing.

By the time he reached the darkened bedroom's doorway, Etherton said he could see what appeared to be silhouettes of Guerre lying on the bed and the baby sitting near her. The officer said he flipped on the light and Nadell sat up in bed, started yelling profanities and grabbed the phone, saying she was going to call her attorney.

Leyba arrived at the house about that time and brushed by Ziel when he heard yelling in the bedroom.

"When I entered the room, these women were totally out of control," Leyba said. "Both women were belligerent, yelling vulgarities. It was disgusting."

Etherton said that Nadell screamed at him, demanding to know what the officers were doing at the house. Police said Nadell was dressed only in panties, a bra and a pull-over type top that was open in the front.

"She was a ball of fire in our face," Leyba said. "(She) threatened to kill us ... threatened to break us in court."

Etherton said he attempted to question Guerre about the blood on her and the baby, and eventually took her to another part of the house, because Nadell's screaming kept him from hearing Guerre's responses.

Etherton testified that Guerre, who was 19 at the time, first denied and later admitted to having had alcoholic beverages to drink that night, and told the officer that neither she nor the baby was injured. Etherton initiated a sobriety test, he said, when Guerre said she wanted to take the baby she claimed was Nadell's and drive away from the house.

Seconds later, Etherton said he saw Leyba fall to the ground in the hallway outside the bedroom after being kicked by Nadell, whom Leyba had been trying to handcuff and take into custody on charges of being under the influence of a controlled substance -- a felony -- and battery on a police officer.

The officers said Nadell refused to put clothes on and fought their attempts to put her into a pair of sweat pants. They said they carried her, handcuffed, out of the house so that she wouldn't cut her bare feet on the glass shards outside. Etherton said he had to physically pin her down inside the patrol car's back seat on the way to Clark County Detention Center, because Nadell continued struggling.

The officers said her injuries likely resulted from the fight Nadell put up, attributing the red rings depicted in evidence photos around her wrists to wriggling in her handcuffs. Neither Leyba, Etherton nor Ziel claim to have hit Nadell with their batons, flashlights or any other weapons.

Nadell was taken by paramedics to UMC later that night and submitted to a blood test that showed her blood-alcohol concentration to be 0.28 percent, authorities said.

Obront said the blood test, however, proved that Nadell had no controlled substances in her system and maintains that no law exists making it illegal to be drunk while at home.