It took awhile, but officer Jacquar Roston admitted his mistakes in the November shooting of an unarmed man.
His change in attitude also saved his job.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said Monday that Roston would be suspended, not fired, for the Nov. 11 wounding of 22-year-old Lawrence Gordon. Gordon, who was shot in the leg, is suing the department.
Gillespie’s decision was in contrast with the department’s internal Use of Force Board, which in April recommended the officer be fired. Roston was initially combative and unwilling to admit any wrongdoing, Gillespie said, and the officer told the board he wouldn’t change how he handled the incident.
But Roston changed his tune when before the department’s pre-termination board a few months later. The second board felt Roston had accepted responsibility.
Gillespie, who interviewed members of both boards and Roston, also felt the officer had atoned.
“Officer Roston made a serious mistake, and he takes responsibility for that,” Gillespie said at a press conference. “He also made a serious mistake at his Use of Force Board, in not indicating to them that he had made a number of mistakes that evening.”
In addition to the 40-hour suspension without pay -- the department’s maximum discipline -- Roston will be retrained in a program specifically structured for him.
If the officer shows improvement, he will return to patrol. If he does not, Gillespie said he could be fired.
“I believe he will succeed. However, it is his responsibility to demonstrate that he can,” the sheriff said. “I say let’s put the time and the effort into training. If we don’t see the desired results, then he will not be out in field.”
It’s been more than eight months since Roston’s last shift.
The officer was investigating a late-night domestic dispute between Gordon and his girlfriend in a parking lot at 1600 S. Hollywood Blvd. The woman claimed Gordon had beaten her and damaged her car.
Roston took the woman away from Gordon, who remained in the passenger seat of the car during the interview.
When Roston approached Gordon, he noticed Gordon digging under his seat, Gillespie said. When Gordon brought his hands up toward Roston, Gillespie said the officer mistook the shine from a label on Gordon’s baseball cap for a gun.
Roston fired one shot, striking Gordon in the leg.
Gordon later told the Review-Journal the shot missed his femoral artery, but the thigh bone in his right leg was shattered. The injury required emergency surgery and insertion of a metal rod and eight bolts in his leg.
Gordon also needed a blood transfusion, and spent more than a week recovering at University Medical Center. The hospital has filed an $82,500 lien against Gordon, who did not have health insurance.
Gillespie said Gordon, who was not charged with a crime, was trying to hide marijuana when he reached under the seat.
“I tell you these facts now so you have a complete picture of what the officer faced that night, not to excuse his actions,” he said.
Although Gillespie conducted his own review and did several interviews, he never spoke with Gordon, said attorney Cal Potter.
“My concern is there appears to be no accountability. It’s just police circling the wagons again,” Potter said.
Potter said he didn’t know if Gordon had marijuana in the car. Either way, Roston failed to de-escalate the situation, did not call for backup and ended up shooting an unarmed man, Potter said.
“They’re trying to dirty up Lawrence Gordon to justify their actions. Shame on them, and shame on the sheriff for trying to blame the victim,” he said.
Roston’s shooting didn’t garner much public scrutiny at first, in part because Gordon’s identity was not revealed and the department released very few details about the case.
But behind the scenes, the shooting was roundly criticized by the department’s Use of Force Review Board, which was strengthened last year in the wake of a federal review of its use-of-force policies and publication of a Review-Journal series, “Deadly Force,” a yearlong investigation on Las Vegas police shootings.
Both the Justice Department and the newspaper found the force board lacked accountability and transparency. Police hoped the changes would re-establish credibility with the public and broaden the scope of a panel that has been criticized as a rubber stamp after shootings.
In the past, the board determined whether a shooting was “justified” or “unjustified.”
The department changed the classifications to “administrative approval” and “administrative disapproval,” and also offers feedback on tactics, decisions and training.
The changes were aimed at examining the totality of the officer’s actions rather than simply issuing a blanket approval or rare disapproval.
Before the changes to the board, no officer involved in an on-duty shooting was ever recommended for termination. Since the changes, there have been two: Roston and Jesus Arevalo, the officer who shot and killed Stanley Gibson.
Although the force board was revamped, the pre-termination hearing was not changed. The sheriff always has final say in the firing of any officer, although an officer can appeal the decision to an outside arbitrator.
Gillespie said his decision didn’t undermine the Use of Force Review Board’s credibility, which he said rendered a correct decision based on Roston’s poor attitude during his review.
The sheriff noted that police have a spotty track record for admitting mistakes, but Monday’s press conference showed his department’s growth.
“A 40-hour suspension for a use of force, if you look historically at this organization, is significant. And I, as sheriff, stand before the public saying we made a mistake under these circumstances, is (significant) as well.”
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at email@example.com or 702-383-0283. Follow @blasky on Twitter.