Nevada Highway Patrol
Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Henderson City Councilwoman Gerri Schroder only learned Monday that a Henderson Police officer was caught on tape kicking a restrained man in the head five times during a botched traffic stop in October 2010 that wound up costing the city $257,000.
By now the ugly incident is well known: Adam Greene was in diabetic shock and driving erratically when he was pulled from his car by police at gunpoint, forcibly restrained on his stomach and then kicked in the head by Sgt. Brett Seekatz. Highway Patrol troopers were also involved, and the whole thing was captured on video.
What’s concerning now, though, is that the people’s representatives on the Henderson City Council were left in the dark so long.
Where’s the oversight?
The attitude emanating from Henderson City Hall this week has been: Move along, nothing to see here.
Police Chief Jutta Chambers has declined interviews. The city wouldn’t say what discipline the officer received, but we know he wasn’t fired and apparently kept his rank. (By contrast, when Metro Police’s Bryan Yant killed Trevon Cole in a questionable shooting and was stuck on desk duty, Metro told the public. More contrast: What would happen if you or I kicked someone in the head?)
Mayor Andy Hafen released a statement, which reads in part: “What happened to Mr. Greene was wrong, and we regret the pain and suffering that he and his family endured because of it. As a result of what happened a year ago with Mr. Greene, our police department modified their training on the use of force. As a result, we have already seen the numbers of those types of incidents go down.”
The police department put out a similar news release, saying “use of force” incidents had declined from 567 in 2010 to to 396 in 2011.
A problem I had reporting this story Friday is that Henderson takes Fridays off. How Greek. (OK, to be fair, they work four 10-hour shifts.) Hafen didn’t return a message to his home. The police spokesman told me the chief was off.
Schroder said when she saw the video Monday she was “shocked” and “disappointed” and then happy to learn that Henderson Police “used this incident to further train officers to ensure this does not happen again.”
I asked if she had talked to Chambers, the police chief, about discipline meted out to Seekatz. Or about disciplinary procedures more generally. Or about whether the officer is still interacting with the public.
Schroder said the city charter prohibits her from interfering in personnel matters. She’s right, and for good reason: We don’t want part-time city council members meddling and micromanaging. The council supervises the city clerk, city attorney and city manager.
But she can’t even ask questions?
“I don’t want to be in violation of the charter, and I’m always cautious about that,” she said.
Here’s what the charter says: “Except for the purpose of inquiry, the Council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the City Manager, and neither the Council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinate of the City Manager, either publicly or privately.” (Emphasis mine.)
I’m no lawyer, but I think the City Council is entitled, nay, required to ask questions about its police force, the agency to which it has given a legalized monopoly on violence and kidnapping (and apparently head-kicking, too).
Councilwoman Debra March, who learned of the incident two weeks ago and only saw the video hours before the Tuesday settlement vote, said, “We’ve expressed concerns to our city manager. He knows we’re all concerned about the way this was handled.”
City Councilman Sam Bateman, who was elected in 2011, after the incident occurred, is also a Clark County prosecutor. He indicated the need for more aggressive oversight. (He too says he was only recently informed of the incident.)
Bateman said in an email that the conduct was not representative of the work of the “great men and women” of Henderson Police, though he said he didn’t think the officer’s actions rose to the level of a criminal offense.
He said he had talked to the chief about the incident, the discipline imposed on the officer and training to reduce use of force incidents.
“I am convinced that we can keep people safe without conducting ourselves in a manner that brings public condemnation and potential civil liability.”
That is more likely with rigorous public oversight.