A North Las Vegas police SWAT officer shot a man while trying to disarm him just after midnight New Year's Day, the first officer-involved shooting for the department in two years, and the first for the valley in 2011.
The officer and his partner were patrolling a neighborhood near Fifth Street and Carey Avenue when they spotted a group of men firing guns to celebrate the new year in the front yard of a home at 609 E. Glendale Ave. As they walked up to the home, they saw several people outside with guns, according to Sgt. Tim Bedwell.
Bedwell said the officers gave orders to the people to drop their weapons, and all complied except for one. That man pointed a gun within arm's length of one officer, who brushed it aside with his hand and tried to disarm him. During the physical altercation, the officer fired several times, Bedwell said. The officer has not been identified.
The man, identified by family as Fernando Giovanni Sauceda, a 32-year-old father of five, died in the driveway of his home. Officers arrested four other men for discharging firearms in public and seized five handguns and a rifle.
Sauceda's family and friends Saturday afternoon disputed the police version of events, however. They said the officers, who wore green SWAT uniforms instead of the more common dark blue, did not identify themselves. They said Sauceda didn't know they were police.
"He definitely wouldn't have pointed a gun at officers," said longtime friend Gabriel Ponce, 35. "He knows better than that."
Family members who were at the home Saturday didn't see the incident. But there were several holes and markers from police rounds outside: two in the side of a maroon Ford Explorer in the driveway, one that went through a metal security door on the side of the house, and one through the windshield of a recreational vehicle in the backyard.
"It's not right how it went down," Ponce said.
Bedwell said the fact that some people at the scene complied with officers' commands is evidence that it was clear who the officers were.
"The evidence and the witnesses and the statements made by those arrested don't support that they didn't know they were police officers," he said.
Friends said Sauceda, who worked in construction in Las Vegas when he wasn't on an Alaskan fishing boat, was a dedicated family man. He married his longtime girlfriend just four weeks before he died. He coached Little League and was very much involved in the lives of his children, who were ages five to 13.
"On report cards, Cs were not accepted in his house," said his sister-in-law, Lety Cano, 33.
His 13-year-old daughter, was one of about 15 children attending the family party when her father was shot. She fainted and then burst into tears Saturday as she tried to recount the events.
The dead man's family doesn't deny that Sauceda and other men were firing their weapons in the air around midnight.
"Everybody in this neighborhood does it,'' Cano said. "I'm not saying it's right, but everybody does it."
Officers had been dispatched in the neighborhood specifically to stop such celebratory gunfire, Bedwell said.
"On New Year's, right about midnight in this general neighborhood, we get numerous calls of shots fired, and we get them every year," he said.
Bedwell said the activity is dangerous because bullets fired into the air fall back to earth and can kill if they hit someone. Investigators found dozens of spent shell casings and boxes of unfired rounds at the home.
There were no reports of injuries from falling rounds Friday night, but a car about a block from Sauceda's home was damaged by gunfire, Bedwell said. Police haven't linked the damage to shots from Sauceda's home.
Last New Year's Eve, a boy was wounded in the leg by a falling round in North Las Vegas, Bedwell said. Nobody was arrested in the incident.
Public records show that Sauceda had a minor arrest record, including two for domestic violence, most recently in 2004.
Those arrested Saturday morning on charges of discharging a firearm where a person might be endangered, a gross misdemeanor, were Heriberto Diaz, 31, Adam Sauceda, 23, Jose Diaz, 35, and Francisco Aguirre, 21.
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440.