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October 17, 2017

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Metro, widow agree to $1.5 million settlement in 2011 shooting death of unarmed veteran


Christopher DeVargas

Rondha Gibson, whose husband was fatally shot by Metro in December 2011, speaks to the media following the firing of Officer Jesus Arevalo, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013.

Updated Monday, Oct. 28, 2013 | 3:42 p.m.

Stanley Gibson

(From left) Commissioners Steve Sisolak and James Hammer with Sheriff Doug Gillespie listen to the details of a lawsuit settlement during a fiscal affairs committee meeting at the Metro Police headquarters Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Metro Police's Fiscal Affairs Committee has agreed to pay a $1.5 million settlement to the widow of Stanley Gibson, the unarmed Gulf War veteran shot to death by police in December 2011.

The action this morning clears the way for Rondha Gibson to end a federal lawsuit she filed last year against Sheriff Doug Gillespie, Lt. David Dockendorf, Sgt. Michael Hnatuick, Officer Jesus Arevalo and Officer Malik Grego-Smith.

The lawsuit accused the Las Vegas police of civil rights violations leading to the wrongful death of 43-year-old Stanley Gibson.

The department had been negotiating with Rondha Gibson and her attorney, Cal Potter, for more than a year, but discussions "heated up" in the past three or four months, said attorney Craig Anderson, who serves as outside counsel for Metro.

Rondha Gibson has signed off on the agreed figure, as did Gillespie and the other officers named in the lawsuit, Anderson said.

Rondha Gibson, who lost her house and has been living with family and friends since her husband's death, said the settlement would allow her to move forward with her life, but she would also like to help the community. She plans to start a foundation to help widows in Las Vegas – an idea borne out of daily challenges she faced after her husband's death.

"It has been a long process; it has been a long time," she said this afternoon speaking at her attorneys' office. "The money – it's OK, but to me, being with Stan was worth a million dollars every day."

Anderson told the Fiscal Affairs Committee the settlement — although a large sum of money — was actually an "excellent economic decision" for the department.

"We come to a figure that we think is fair that saves the department money while, at the same point, fairly compensates the plaintiff but does not give one of the higher verdicts that they may seek from a jury," he said, explaining the rationale for settling the case versus going to a trial. "There's certainly a cost-benefit analysis."

The deadly officer-involved shooting happened in the early morning hours of Dec. 12, 2011, at the Alondra Condominiums, 2451 N. Rainbow Blvd., after reports of an attempted burglary.

When the suspect vehicle described to police — a white Cadillac — showed back up at the complex, officers blocked it in and realized it belonged to Stanley Gibson.

Police said Stanley Gibson refused commands to get out of his vehicle and rammed a patrol car, periodically revving his car's engine and spinning its tires.

Authorities on scene devised a plan to fire a bean-bag round into Stanley Gibson's vehicle, but when the bean-bag round hit the vehicle window, Arevalo mistakenly thought he was being shot at and returned fire. He fired seven shots from his .223-caliber rifle into the Cadillac, killing Stanley Gibson, who his wife said suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

At a Police Fatality Public Fact-finding Review early this year, police acknowledged a hasty plan change and inadequate communication contributed to the fatal shooting.

A Clark County grand jury declined to indict Arevalo on criminal charges, but Gillespie terminated the officer from Metro's force this month.

Stanley Gibson's mother, Celestine Gibson, also filed a federal lawsuit in May 2012 against the department, Arevalo, Hnatuick and Dockendorf alleging civil rights violations. That case has not been settled.

Attorney Andre Lagomarsino, who represents Celestine Gibson, said this month that he expected the civil case to head to trial in late 2014 or early 2015.

Anderson acknowledged that Metro had extended an offer to Stanley Gibson's mother, but he said it was rejected. He did not indicate the dollar value of that offer.

Less than two years ago, Metro's Fiscal Affairs Committee approved a $1.7 million settlement to the family of Trevon Cole, an unarmed 21-year-old shot by police in June 2010 in his apartment bathroom.

The settlement to Cole's family contributed to a spike in liability claims paid by the department in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, according to data presented during the Fiscal Affairs Committee meeting.

Metro was named as a defendant in 153 open lawsuits in state and federal courts as of Aug. 30, according to the department. That number includes a mix of lawsuits related to automobile accidents, civil rights, employment issues and state law negligence.

Although civil rights lawsuits make up the highest percentage of cases, automobile accidents wind up costing the department more money.

In addition to the Gibson settlement, the Fiscal Affairs Committee also approved a $30,000 payment today to Adrian Danley, whose vehicle was struck by a Metro patrol car on Maryland Parkway. Danley filed the civil lawsuit in District Court in September 2011, according to court records.

Throughout the brief data presentation, Metro attorneys emphasized the department's success keeping legal expenses as low as possible.

"With all of this potential for liability, (Metro's) liability expense, including the cost of defense, was less than 1 percent of operating expenses each year," said Liesl Freedman, Metro's general counsel.

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