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October 20, 2017

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Proposed change to voided coroner’s inquest rules may face test


Sam Morris

Clark County commissioner Chris Giunchigliani talks to other commissioners Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 during a meeting of the Clark County Commission.

After a state Supreme Court ruling last week, Clark County’s coroner’s inquest process may be in need of an overhaul. But some county commissioners doubt an amendment to be introduced during next week’s meeting is the answer.

The state’s high court ruled that justices of the peace could not oversee inquests. So the amended code, introduced by Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, deletes references to a justice of the peace. It just says a “presiding officer” oversees the hearings.

It does not define “presiding officer.”

Commissioner Steve Sisolak forged the committee last year that came up with several changes to the inquest system. The biggest change was creation of an ombudsman position to represent the families of people killed by police. The inquest is a decades-old fact-finding process that traditionally has brought witnesses into a quasi-judicial hearing to determine if the killing was justified.

It took months for commissioners to create criteria and a definition for the ombudsman. Sisolak sees it taking just as long, if not longer, to figure out the qualifications of someone who would oversee an inquest.

“I don’t see how this will be any faster,” Sisolak said.

Giunchigliani could not immediately be reached for comment.

The amended code will be introduced at Wednesday’s meeting, meaning commissioners may discuss it but the public cannot. Typically, after an ordinance introduction, a public hearing on the matter is scheduled for the next commission meeting.

Commissioner Tom Collins wants to take longer than two weeks. He said Thursday “there’s no reason to rush.”

“We need to start and let the ACLU and the police and the families and everyone involved work this out,” he said.

The Metro Police hierarchy may be interested in getting involved again, but rank-and-file police officers might not. Chris Collins, head of the police union, said earlier this week none of his officers would participate in an inquest.

If the officers don’t take part in it, Sisolak said, “What good is doing it?”

Sisolak noted the police union also has filed a federal lawsuit regarding inquests, and any kind of commission decision now might be thwarted by the federal court later on.

“What’s the sense of going forward now when we don’t even know how that case is going to be resolved?” he said.

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