Las Vegas Sun

June 29, 2017

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Looking in on: Justice:

White supremacists will be tried before jury

One member’s decision to reject plea bargain kills deal for all six defendants

The Aryan Warriors racketeering trial came close to being called off Monday, as federal prosecutors and lawyers for the six defendants tried work out plea bargains at the last minute.

The talks fell through by late morning, forcing both sides to begin selecting a jury after lunch in what could be a two-month trial under unusually tight security.

Authorities consider the Aryan Warriors, a white supremacist prison gang, a domestic terrorist group capable of committing acts of violence beyond prison walls.

Prosecutors agreed to talk about possible plea agreements at the eleventh hour, but with one key condition: All six gang members and associates had to plead guilty to a racketeering conspiracy that called for additional substantial prison time for each defendant.

For a while Monday, prosecutors thought they had a deal and left the courtroom to prepare the agreements. But when they returned to present the agreements to U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson, they learned that at least one of the defendants had decided to reject the deal. That killed deals for all of the defendants.

Both sides then picked the jury in what promises to be a sensational trial that will focus attention on the gang’s white separatist culture, its violent nature and its ability to corrupt corrections officers.

A dozen U.S. marshals were stationed in the courtroom Monday and no one was allowed to bring in cell phones, laptop computers or other electronic devices. The six shackled defendants and their lawyers were separated from the prosecution table by 3 1/2-foot-high partitions.

Defense lawyers had asked Dawson to order the government to turn over a copy of an FBI intelligence report that months ago raised concerns about the safety of the prosecution team members.

But Dawson said the report, disclosed in a Sun story, was not relevant to the defense, and he denied the request.

Opening statements were to begin at 9 a.m. today.

•••

Las Vegas defense attorney David Lee Phillips, a former university regent, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Metro Police stemming from his February 2008 late-night arrest while jogging near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Vegas Drive.

Phillips, the son of longtime civil rights activist Ruby Duncan, alleges in the federal suit that police used excessive force and falsely took him into custody for not cooperating when they detained him during his jog.

Phillips contends that he identified himself to the officers and did not “disrespect or resist” them.

He says he merely exercised his constitutional rights of refusing to consent to a search.

One of the half-dozen arresting officers told Phillips “he was going to jail because he was an (expletive),” the suit alleges.

The misdemeanor charge against Phillips ultimately was dismissed in Las Vegas Municipal Court.

The suit, prepared by attorney Cal Potter, alleges his black colleague’s arrest was the result of a “de facto” police policy of punishing “persons of color in an unlawful manner without corroborating information and without rightful authority of law.”

•••

Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice James Hardesty seems to have brokered a truce in the rift between Clark County and North Las Vegas Justice Court.

Hardesty says the North Las Vegas justices of the peace have agreed to temporarily go back to a lighter criminal schedule, which should allow the county to pull an item from the County Commission agenda today asking for $545,000 to fund new prosecutor and public defender positions.

The chief justice says he plans to continue playing the role of peacemaker, getting both sides together for more discussions in the coming weeks until a long-term solution is crafted.

But he may have his hands full.

There is still plenty of resentment toward the county on the part of North Las Vegas Justice Court officials, who believe some people in the county manager’s office tried to turn the media against the court in this dispute.

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