Hispanics want to join inquest debate


As a nine-member panel debates how Clark County coroner's inquests into fatal police shootings might be revamped, they face another criticism: The panel lacks a Hispanic member.

Hispanics make up 30 percent of Clark County's population and represent a disproportionate share of those fatally shot by police, so it's crucial that a Hispanic person sits on the panel, advocates argue.

Panel members will meet for the third time today and discuss whether they should ask county commissioners to add a Hispanic representative to the panel.

Commissioners then will decide Wednesday whether to bring in a Hispanic as well as representatives from other groups for the final panel meeting on Nov. 8.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who spearheaded the inquest committee, said other groups besides Hispanics want a voice on the panel, including justices of the peace, the police managers union and a gay and lesbian group.

"I don't know how you add one without adding several," Sisolak said. "I don't know if it's fair."

It would be difficult for a new person to jump into the process as members are hammering out recommendations, he said.

Sisolak said he would be reluctant to extend the meetings beyond Nov. 8 because he thinks Commissioner Rory Reid should have a chance to vote on any changes before leaving office in January. Usually, it takes at least a month for committee recommendations to be published and put before the commission, he said, noting that the commission will have a shortened December schedule because of the holidays.

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

Jose Solorio, a state education department candidate, said blacks have the NAACP to represent them on the panel, and Hispanics need someone to speak for them.

He argued that it would be fair to add a Hispanic member, and no one else.

Police managers or justices of the peace don't have the same interest in inquests as Hispanics, Solorio said.

"They haven't been victims of police shootings," he said.

Clark County has roughly 600,000 Hispanic residents, and anti-immigration animosity likely will cause more run-ins with authorities, Solorio said.

He noted that several years ago, police shot 17-year-old Swave Lopez in the back while he was handcuffed and fleeing.

An inquest jury found the shooting justified, angering critics and prompting creation of the first inquest review panel, in late 2006.

Two members of the current panel agreed that only a Hispanic member should be added.

"It is important for the panel to reflect the diversity of our community," said Maggie McLetchie, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

If Solorio joined the panel, he wouldn't hinder the proceedings because he has attended all the meetings and has taken notes, she said. However, bringing in people who haven't been so studious could cause snags, McLetchie said.

Law enforcement doesn't need to put any more officials on the panel, McLetchie said, arguing that it already has ample representation.

"We need to have a fair and balanced panel," she said. "I don't think it should be dominated by law enforcement, because we don't want them to veto changes in the inquest process."

Justices of the peace, who preside over inquests, shouldn't be on the committee, she said. Their role should be administering an inquest's rules and not reshaping them.

Christopher Blakesley, the panel chairman, said Hispanics have a clear interest in how inquests are handled.

Adding someone such as Solorio, who has listened to the panel's talks, would pose no problem, but bringing in four or five more members would wreak havoc, said Blakesley, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"At that point, it becomes unwieldy," he said.

Blakesley agreed that Solorio seemed informed enough to step in for the final meeting and help make recommendations.

Solorio said Hispanics must take part in fixing the system to have confidence in police, and for authorities to have greater trust in Hispanics.

"We need to build that trust," Solorio said. "Without that participation, there is that fear."

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

 

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