Families of two men who died in encounters with Las Vegas police file civil lawsuits


The families of two men who died during encounters with Las Vegas police filed separate federal lawsuits Tuesday against the agency and its officers, alleging negligence that proved fatal.

One lawsuit was filed on behalf of the mother and father of Anthony Jones, 44, who died in December 2010 after he ran from police during a traffic stop and two officers used a Taser on him several times. Taser International Inc., the manufacturer, also was named as a defendant.

The widow and father of Anthony Brenes, 32, are plaintiffs in their lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department. Brenes died in November 2010 after he was shot once. Police said he walked toward officers with some sort of stick in his hand. Attempts to subdue Brenes with a Taser and a beanbag shotgun were unsuccessful.

Lawyer Peter Goldstein is representing both families.

The Clark County district attorney's office cleared officers in both cases of any criminal wrongdoing. In Brenes' case, officers didn't violate any internal policies, Las Vegas police said. But policies restricting Taser use were adapted after Jones' death.

In the Jones family lawsuit, four officers were named as defendants. The lawsuit alleges unreasonable search and seizure, excessive force, false arrest, battery and negligence.

The lawsuit said Tasers were used on Jones for more than 100 seconds. It said that before the encounter got physical, Jones was detained without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion.

On Dec. 11, 2010, police stopped Jones' Lexus sedan about 1 a.m. near Martin Luther King and Lake Mead boulevards because its headlights were off. During the stop, an officer noticed Jones acting erratically and asked him to step out of the vehicle.

After an altercation, the officer drew his gun, and Jones ran. Jones fell in a nearby dirt lot, and the officer jumped on his back and fought with him.

According to internal police reports, officer Mark Hatten fired his Taser 10 times for about 92 seconds. Officer Timothy English used his Taser twice for about 10 seconds. It was unclear how many of the Taser shots struck Jones, the reports said.

Because of this incident, the department changed its Taser policy to stop multiple officers from using the weapon on someone at the same time.

Also, policy was changed to restrict Tasers from being used for more than three five-second cycles.

The Clark County coroner's office listed Jones' cause of death as cocaine and ethanol intoxication, with police restraining procedures and an enlarged heart as contributing factors. He was a registered sex offender on parole.

On Nov. 15, 2010, Brenes was killed by a single shot fired by Las Vegas police officer Sean Miller.

Brenes was holding a walking stick as he moved toward the officer and challenged him to shoot outside a convenience store near Desert Inn Road and the Pecos-McLeod connector.

Before Miller fired at Brenes, two other officers shot Brenes with a Taser and a beanbag shotgun. Neither stopped Brenes from continuing to move toward Miller, who backpedaled nearly 130 feet before pulling the trigger, the report said.

According to the decision letter by Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Laurent, Brenes was walking with his wife to the Mohave Mental Health Clinic early in the morning.

The wife knew they were walking in the wrong direction, but she didn't correct her husband because she was afraid of him and feared he would hit her with a "stick."

A witness in a car saw Brenes pick up a large rock and throw it. Believing he was witnessing a domestic dispute, the witness flagged down Miller, who was talking to a homeless man nearby.

Miller met Brenes outside a Speedee Mart and tried to get him to drop what apparently was a walking stick.

The report didn't clarify what Brenes was holding. One witness described it as a "large club." Miller called it a "stick." Others thought it was a "cane," a "pipe" or a "crowbar."

Miller and two other officers repeatedly told Brenes to drop the stick. They used a Taser on Brenes twice and fired rounds from a less-lethal beanbag shotgun. Officers and witnesses said Brenes was waving the stick and yelling, "Shoot me."

Brenes advanced on the officers, who retreated several times. Miller shot him once as Brenes "closed in on" the officer, according to the letter.

There was no indication in the letter how close Brenes was to the officer. And it wasn't clear what Brenes' wife witnessed or whether she gave a statement to police.

The Brenes lawsuit alleges wrongful death, negligence, false imprisonment, excessive force and unreasonable search and seizure. Three officers were named as defendants.

The lawsuit said Brenes was not breaking any laws during the time police confronted him. It does not mention that Brenes was holding some sort of stick during his encounter with police. In fact, it states that he was not a threat.

"Decedent (Brenes) did not strike or attempt to strike the officers or anyone else at any time," the lawsuit said. "Decedent was unarmed and posed no imminent threat of death or serious physical injury."

Both lawsuits seek damages for wrongful death, attorney fees and funeral expenses.

The lawsuits also state that the department was negligent in its practices, such as the use of Tasers in Jones' death and excessive use of force in Brenes' death. The lawsuits allege police also failed to provide prompt medical care for Jones and Brenes.

Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638.

 

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