Hispanic joins panel reviewing shootings

A Hispanic representative will join the panel reviewing coroner's inquests into deadly shootings by police just in time to help hammer out recommendations for changing the much-criticized system.

Clark County commissioners voted 4-3 Wednesday to add Jose Solorio, a former School Board trustee, to the nine-member panel for its final scheduled meeting on Monday.

Solorio and other advocates have argued that Hispanics warrant a seat on the panel because they make up 30 percent of the county's population and, relative to their numbers, have frequent fatal encounters with police.

"So, if there is a Latino victim, it's a process we discussed and were a part of," Solorio said.

In roughly 200 coroner's inquests since 1976, Hispanics were involved in 16 percent; African Americans in 30 percent; and whites in 48 percent.

Several years ago, police fatally shot 17-year-old murder suspect Swuave Lopez in the back while he was handcuffed and fleeing. An inquest jury found the shooting justified, spurring an outcry that led to creation of the first inquest review panel in 2006.

Commissioners Larry Brown, Rory Reid, Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly voted in favor of adding Solorio to the current panel. Commissioners Steve Sisolak, Susan Brager and Tom Collins voted against the move.

A couple of commissioners expressed concerns about having a new person jump into the last meeting when members would be deciding recommendations for revamping inquests.

Brager said it seemed late to change the panel's composition. Instead, Solorio could testify at the podium and take longer than the four minutes normally given citizens to comment.

Sisolak said Solorio has valid arguments, but he agreed with Brager that changing the committee now could prove counterproductive.

"I wish with all my heart that Mr. Solorio would've been here four weeks ago" when the commission formed the panel, Sisolak said. "Then it would've been easy."

Other groups have asked to join the panel, raising the question of whether it's fair to include one person while excluding others, Sisolak said. The groups include justices of the peace and the police managers union.

Giunchigliani countered that Solorio has attended all of the panel's three meetings, making him versed in the subjects debated. Representatives of the other groups mentioned didn't show up for the meetings, she said.

The panel has ample representation from law enforcement and the justice system, so adding more people from these fields could make it lopsided, Giunchigliani said.

Omitting a Hispanic representative was an oversight that should be fixed, she said. "While it's a late hour, I have no problem with adding Mr. Solorio."

Weekly agreed.

"When you look at the makeup of this committee, I think it does lack diversity," Weekly said. Some panel members are concerned that adding Solorio would create a 10-person body that could tie 5-5 on votes, Weekly said. But this panel is advisory, which means all its suggestions -- including ones that draw tie votes -- will go to the commission for the final decision, he said.

Brown said that no matter how much the inquest hearings are changed, certain people will be dissatisfied and the system will be imperfect. But it could help to have a Hispanic representative on the board, even for the last meeting, Brown said.

"Putting them on the panel in the 11th hour brings them inside and gives them ownership."

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.