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September 18, 2019

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Former Metro officer exonerated in reckless driving case

Officer says he was targeted as an “example” by prosecutors and Metro

Aron Carpenter Testifies

Former Metro Police Officer Aron Carpenter testifies during his trial on reckless driving charges at the Clark County Regional Justice Center Monday, July 18, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Trial

KSNV coverage of not guilty verdict in reckless driving trial of former Metro Police officer Aron Carpenter, July 19, 2011.

Crash location

Not guilty.

A Clark County jury took less than an hour to reach that verdict in the reckless driving trial of Aron Carpenter, the former Metro Police patrol officer who prosecutors said caused a fatal crash because he didn’t follow orders to stop pursuing a man who had been driving erratically on May 19, 2010, through North Las Vegas.

“This nightmare that I was forced to live for the last year and two months is finally over,” Carpenter said outside the courtroom, after hugging his family members and team of attorneys led by Bret O. Whipple.

“I just want to move on with my life,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter had been charged with two felony counts of reckless driving.

One count was for the death of the man he was following, Ivan Carrillo, 27, and the other was for injuries suffered by Andrea Hottel, a driver involved in a multiple-car pileup near Lone Mountain Road and Lamb Boulevard.

The trial began in May but was delayed because of a prosecutor's medical condition. It began again last week, and the final witnesses took the stand Tuesday, followed by jury instructions and closing arguments.

The jury was dismissed at 4:40 p.m. and was expected to go home for the evening and return Wednesday. However, in less than an hour, the jury announced it had reached a verdict, and by 6:10 p.m. jurors had announced their finding and Carpenter was free to go.

Carpenter is one of two officers who prosecutors say ignored multiple orders from a sergeant to stop the chase after they initially were unable to pull over the driver suspected of driving under the influence.

The other officer, Andrew Ubbens, pleaded no contest in January to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge and was fined $500 and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service. Ubbens, who was also on unpaid administrative leave, has been reinstated during a probationary period.

Carpenter testified during his trial that at the accident scene, his supervisor, Sgt. Dave Toney, chastised both him and Ubbens.

“I obeyed the orders, all three of the orders. I was in my own lane. And then to have Sgt. Toney say he was going to hang us out to dry, I knew at that point it was going to be an uphill battle,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said Metro “went through the union and offered me a deal ... And I declined it.” Carpenter was fired from Metro in March after having been on unpaid administrative leave since the incident.

Carpenter said he is scheduled for arbitration Aug. 29-30 to get his job back with Metro and will be represented by his union. He said an arbitrator will come in from California to hear both sides and determine whether to overrule or sustain the department’s decision.

“I want to go back to be a police officer,” he said. “I’ll go back to work here, if that’s where it is, or anywhere else.”

Carpenter says he was made an example by Metro officials and by the Clark County district attorney’s office.

“Unfortunately, it came during a re-election year by (District Attorney) David Roger and (Sheriff) Doug Gillespie,” Carpenter said.

Although several officers testified against him in the case, Carpenter said he didn’t hold any grudges against the department, just some individuals in charge.

“But the department as a whole, the individuals I work with on the street, the patrol officers, they’re out there to do their job and cover one another,” he said.

He said he felt like he stood up for what the department taught him and maintained his integrity.

“I stood up to the truth and I never wavered. I felt by going to the end that was the best decision for me, because the truth is the truth,” he said. “I know what happened out there and they misconstrued (what happened.)”

Carpenter tried to talk to the jurors as they were ushered out by the bailiff through the hallway outside the court. But none of them lingered to talk to him. The judge had instructed jurors to stay in the hallway if they wanted to talk to anyone associated with the trial.

Asked why he thought the jury ruled in his favor, Carpenter said it was because there was no evidence that he was at fault.

“The main thing is it’s not my fault that somebody comes into my lane,” he said. “I didn’t cause his accident. He caused his own accident. So it’s common sense. If he didn’t come into my lane, there wouldn’t have been an accident.”

Carpenter said he obeyed all three orders issued by his supervisor to end the high-speed chase.

“I turned my lights and siren off,” he said. “I know my speed was between 40 and 45 mph.”

During closing arguments, Chief Deputy District Attorney L.J. O’Neale told the jury it was now their opportunity to “police the police.”

O’Neale said despite being ordered to back off, Carpenter continued to follow and Carrillo continued to drive away.

“How much of his bad driving was because of police presence?” O’Neale said.

He said that continuing to follow Carrillo was not illegal, but going over the speed limit without his lights and siren on was.

During Tuesday’s testimony, two Metro detectives had conflicting testimony as to how fast they thought that Carpenter was going while following Carrillo.

Metro Detective Wiliam Redfairn said his calculations determined it was 62 mph, which was over the 45 mph speed limit.

However, a witness for the defense, retired Metro Detective Steve Winnie, told the jury he used a different calculation and find Carpenter’s speed was 51 mph, with a normal error of 5 to 10 percent.

During closing arguments, Carpenter’s attorney told the jury that prosecutors had failed to show that Carpenter caused the accident.

“Should someone be prosecuted for an accident that was caused by someone else?” Whipple said. “... If you find the suspect was the cause of the accident, officer Carpenter cannot be found guilty, period.”

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