Police union taking coroner's inquest challenge to court

Southern Nevada's largest police union will take its fight against the coroner's inquest process to court.

The Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents about 2,800 rank-and-file Las Vegas police officers, will file court papers today asking a judge to deem the revamped inquest process unconstitutional.

The first inquest under the new rules was scheduled to start July 12. That date probably will be rescheduled pending the legal action.

Chris Collins, the PPA's executive director, declined to comment until a news conference this morning on the steps of the Regional Justice Center.

The move is the latest in the police union's strident opposition to changes in the process used to review police-related deaths in Clark County.

The County Commission in November approved several changes to the inquest process, most notably allowing an ombudsman to question officers during inquests. Under the previous rules, only deputy district attorneys, jurors and the hearing master could question witnesses directly. Other interested parties, including relatives of those slain by police officers, had to submit written questions to the hearing master, who decided whether to read them.

The new rules also changed the jury's role. Previously, jurors ruled whether a shooting was justified, excusable or criminal. Under the new rules, jurors will determine only basic facts, such as how, when and where someone died.

Supporters of the renovations felt the changes would add integrity to a process long criticized as favoring police.

"We need to let it work and see if it benefits the victims, their families and the police officers," Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said Monday.

But Collins and other police union heads think the new process will turn a neutral fact-finding hearing into an adversarial one.

After the commission approved the new rules, Collins and police union leaders in Henderson and North Las Vegas advised their members not to participate at inquests.

They also advised their officers to stop cooperating with investigators after officer-involved shootings or in-custody deaths. The reason, Collins said, was that those statements could be rehashed at inquests and expose the officers to civil or criminal liability.

"The PPA has consistently throughout the process taken a position that they are above the law," said Maggie McLetchie of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

The PPA also took its fight to Carson City during the legislative session in support of a bill that would have eliminated inquests. The bill died in committee.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who supported the inquest changes, said he would not comment until today .

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he wasn't surprised by the legal move given the PPA's consistent opposition to the changes.

"We want to make sure we get it right," Sisolak said. "If a judge says we can't do it, we can't do it."

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.