Sheriff Doug Gillespie will meet Wednesday with U.S. Department of Justice officials who must determine what role, if any, the federal agency will play in probing how the Metropolitan Police Department deals with shootings by its officers.
Gillespie said he is scheduled to meet Wednesday with representatives of two separate arms of the Justice Department: its civil rights division and its Office of Community Oriented Police Services (COPS).
The civil rights division called Gillespie on Friday after two civil rights groups earlier this month formally requested the Justice Department investigate Las Vegas police.
"They have not decided one way or the other what it is they're going to do, but they did want to meet with me," Gillespie told the Review-Journal's editorial board on Monday. The meetings could determine whether the groups will become involved in the department and their level of involvement, said Gillespie, who has pledged his cooperation.
The news comes as the department is looking at overhauling several policies and procedures, including how it investigates police shootings and how its officers use assault rifles.
Early this month Gillespie sent a team to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Justice Department's COPS office. The office, which is separate from the civil rights division, provides grants and resources to improve police departments. Gillespie said the head of the office called him in November, on the second day of a five-part Review-Journal series looking into the agency's officer-involved shootings.
The office offered to look at the Metropolitan Police Department's policies, procedures and training at no cost to the department, Gillespie said. He said he would find out more on Wednesday.
The same team that went to Washington also visited Denver to study how that city reviews police shootings. Denver's procedures provide more independent oversight and public disclosure than those in Clark County.
Representatives of both arms of the Justice Department are in town later this week for a meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, of which the Metropolitan Police Department is a member, Gillespie said.
Gillespie said that although he doesn't have to wait to make changes, he is in limbo because of recent events. He was hoping for more direction from Clark County commissioners about the inquest process, which has been on hold since 2010. Changes to shooting reviews will involve the district attorney, and Gillespie is scheduled to meet with incoming District Attorney Steve Wolfson on Monday.
Las Vegas police shootings have been under increased scrutiny since late last year, when the Review-Journal profiled a department that was reluctant to hold officers accountable for mistakes and slow to adopt policies and procedures that would protect officers and the public they serve.
Ten days after the series ran, an officer shot and killed Stanley Gibson, an unarmed, disabled veteran. Gibson was in his car, which was pinned between two police vehicles, when a police plan to safely resolve the situation went awry and an officer fired seven rounds into the car.
The shooting was one of several controversial incidents by the department over the years involving an AR-15 assault rifle. In 2010, a single shot by Detective Bryan Yant killed an unarmed Trevon Cole while officers were serving a search warrant. In 2003, Orlando Barlow was on his knees and surrendering to police when he was shot in the back and killed by officer Brian Hartman.
Gillespie said Monday that he expects to change how and when officers use the weapon. "As time has progressed with the AR-15, we have moved away of some of the documentation required when the gun is utilized, and I believe that needs to come back," he said.
The sheriff is looking at recommendations made by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and Las Vegas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in their request to the Justice Department for a civil rights investigation earlier this month. The groups asked for policy reforms, increased racial awareness by officers and the creation of an independent monitor, among other things.
He said he was reaching out to outside groups such as the Police Executive Research Forum to have them come review the department every year.
The sheriff doesn't have an idea when reforms will be adopted or what they might look like, but he has an idea what he wants the new post-shooting process to accomplish.
"When the Department of Justice comes in, or you have an incident like a Stanley Gibson, there's a significant amount of interest into what the police department is doing and how the police department is doing it, and rightfully so," Gillespie said. "But as time progresses, that focus and interest goes away. And I think we need to create a process where that interest is always there."
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at email@example.com or 702-383-0440.