Published Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 | 11:11 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 | 2:07 p.m.
In the late hours of July 3, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins was in the backyard at his North Las Vegas home, using a chainsaw to cut down a large salt cedar tree. Music blared from his white Ford pickup truck with personalized “#TBARK” license plates.
According to police reports released Wednesday morning, though, Collins also had been drinking alcoholic beverages and had admitted he had become mad at the tree and had fired gunshots into it and a nearby post.
Citing the need for consistency in the city’s stance on illegal gunfire, North Las Vegas City Attorney Jeffrey Barr on Wednesday charged Collins, 62, with one count of discharging a firearm within the city limits and one count of disturbing the peace. Barr announced the charges in a news release Wednesday morning.
Collins’ arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 24 in North Las Vegas Municipal Court.
North Las Vegas Police initially forwarded the case to Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson for review. Wolfson, though, citing potential conflict of interest, last month turned over the case for review to the state Attorney General’s Office. The district attorney is elected but the county commission sets department’s budget.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Thom Gover earlier this month said there was not enough evidence to present a gross misdemeanor case against Collins, who has been a county commissioner since 2005.
The North Las Vegas Police Department then forwarded the case to the City Attorney’s Office and requested the lesser misdemeanor charges.
“We have consistently prosecuted this type of case because of the serious risk illegal shooting poses to the citizens of our community,” Barr said on his decision to file charges. He cited the city’s decade-long campaign to educate the public and enforce the policy on illegal gunfire.
A phone message was left with Collins seeking comment.
According to police reports, two witnesses approached police that night and said they had heard two gunshots about 10:30 p.m. and five more shots about 20 to 30 minutes later, all coming from the backyard of the house in the 4200 block of North Decatur. One of the witnesses said she was positive the noise was gunfire because she had seen the muzzle flash of a firearm. They also identified the homeowner as Collins.
Officers approaching the residence heard music and a running chainsaw. One officer who jumped on the wall around the yard spotted Collins walking away from a salt cedar tree that had just been cut.
Collins then entered his truck and drove through the backyard before heading toward the officers on the other side of the wall, according to the report. When the truck stopped running, one of the officers ordered Collins to leave the truck and put his hands up.
Officers then handcuffed Collins and told him there had been reports of a gun being fired in his backyard. After being read his Miranda rights, Collins told police, “Yes, I will speak with you.”
“I then spoke with Collins, who had been drinking alcoholic beverages, and he told me the following,” Officer Noah Bennett wrote in his report. “Collins was mad at his tree so he took his firearm out of the truck and began to shoot at the tree and a post in his backyard. Collins stopped talking at this point and he advised that he wanted to take back that statement at this time.”
Collins confirmed to police that he had firearms in his truck, the report said. Officers found a black .40 caliber automatic Sig Sauer in the glove box and removed eight live rounds of ammunition from its magazine.
The officers took the weapon as evidence, and also called in a crime scene investigator to collect evidence. Officers also found three spent casings, empty Coors beer cans and an empty whiskey bottle scattered around the backyard.
Since the firearm was not discharged in an officer’s presence and witnesses had refused to sign a criminal complaint, Collins was release at the scene, the report said.
If convicted on the misdemeanor charges, Collins faces a maximum penalty of $1,000 and/or six months in jail on each charge, Barr said.
Collins, a Democrat, is seeking a third term on the Clark County Commission and faces former Clark County School Board member Ruth Johnson, a Republican, and Independent American Warren Markowitz on the November ballot.