Man alleges Las Vegas police officer beat him


Mitchell Crooks made national headlines in 2002 when he videotaped a brutal police beating in Inglewood, Calif.

Nine years later, Crooks, now a Las Vegas resident, is again involved in a videotaped police beating -- except this time he is the subject.

Crooks, 36, pointed to blood stains on his driveway nearly a week after the fact, his nose still swollen from an altercation with Las Vegas police officer Derek Colling last Sunday.

He described his injuries as a broken nose and cracked ribs, though doctors called it "facial abrasions and a chest wall injury.'' He opted not to have an X-ray to say for sure.

"Too expensive," Crooks said.

What baffles Crooks about the incident was that he was not committing a crime -- he was standing in his own driveway, filming police in action across the street.

"I was literally shocked, because I hadn't done anything wrong," he said. "I was just pointing my camera. I guess he (Colling) didn't like that."

The incident began about 8:30 p.m. Sunday, when Crooks noticed police helicopters swirling above his home in the 1700 block of Commanche Circle, near East Desert Inn Road and South Maryland Parkway. Police were investigating a burglary call nearby.

Crooks, who had just purchased a $3,500 digital camera for his work as a nightclub videographer, said he went outside to check out the scene, taking his new camera with him. He said he took video of four or five handcuffed subjects sitting on the curb across the street. In terms of crime, there wasn't much to see.

"It seemed totally routine," Crooks said. "I mean, I didn't even care. I wasn't there to record the police."

About an hour later, Crooks said Colling began to drive in a circle in the cul-de-sac, a few people handcuffed in the back of his car. Crooks said he thought the officer was leaving the scene.

But Colling stopped, turned a spotlight on Crooks and got out of his patrol car.

What happens next depends on who is telling the story.

DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF STORY

Colling in a brief police report said he asked Crooks, in a "very conversational tone, 'Hey man, what are you doing?' "

Crooks told Colling he was filming the officers.

Colling asked Crooks whether he lived at the house. According to Colling, Crooks answered, 'No.'

"Due to the fact that he was standing on private property and stated that he did not live there, I had a reasonable belief that he was trespassing," Colling wrote. The officer wrote that he then approached Crooks and asked him "numerous" times to turn the camera off. Crooks declined.

Colling wrote that Crooks started to back away, and that he grabbed Crooks by the shoulders to prevent him from fleeing. A struggle ensued, during which Colling said Crooks grabbed him by the shoulders "and attempted to take me to the ground. I in turn took him to the ground."

Crooks disputes that account.

He said Colling charged him from the police car and shouted, "Turn the camera off, turn the camera off! Do you live here?"

Crooks said he replied, "No. No, I'm just observing."

Crooks agrees that he said 'no' to Colling, but he was referring to the command to lower his camera.

"I was never trying to say, 'No, I don't live here,' " Crooks said later. "That's ridiculous. My license with my address on it was in my pocket. I wasn't just going to put my camera down because I know my rights."

Crooks said the time between Colling getting out of his car and knocking the camera out of his hands, kicking it into the brush, was a few seconds. Crooks said he tried to grab back his camera, but he wasn't trying to resist arrest.

Crooks said Colling punched and kicked him at least 50 times. He said he started screaming for help after Colling handcuffed him.

"He hit me at least a dozen more times in the face to get me to stop screaming," he said.

Neighbors contacted Friday said they saw police and heard yelling the night of the incident. Maria Ceniceros said it was too dark to see much but she heard someone shout, "Somebody help me!"

A police sergeant arrived later, as did crime scene investigators who photographed Crooks' injuries. Nothing in the police reports indicated that Collings suffered any injuries.

Clark County Fire Department paramedics were also called to the scene, Crooks said.

"They wiped the blood off my face, but that's about it," he said.

As for the camera that could prove his story, Crooks said he watched Colling attempt to pry out the tape.

"I have no idea if it's working, or what it recorded, or where the tape is," he said. "It may have recorded the beating."

Crooks was transported to Clark County Detention Center and booked on charges of obstructing a public officer and battery on a protected person -- allegedly placing his hands on Colling's shoulders.

"I figured it (the charge) was because he hurt his knuckles on my face," he joked.

Crooks said he sought medical treatment on his own, after he was released on bail, and is now consulting attorneys.

Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Bill Cassell said the department has opened an internal investigation into the incident but the officer has not been placed on leave, as is often the case during internal investigations. Cassell said he couldn't comment further.

Colling and Crooks have both been involved in past high-profile police actions.

Colling has been involved in two fatal shootings in his 5½ years on the department. In 2006, he and four other officers shot Shawn Jacob Collins after the 43-year-old man pulled a gun at an east valley gas station.

In 2009, he confronted a 15-year-old boy holding a knife in front of his mother and waving it in the direction of other officers. The boy, Tanner Chamberlain, was mentally ill and distraught. Colling, believing the boy to be a threat to his mother, shot Chamberlain once in the head.

Both shootings were ruled justified by a Clark County coroner's jury.

VIDEOTAPED POLICE VIOLENCE

Crooks made headlines in 2002 when he videotaped two Inglewood police officers beating a 16-year-old boy. One officer was fired and criminally charged, though he was twice acquitted by hung juries. The incident strained race relations in Southern California -- the police officer was white, the teenager black.

Crooks, who was staying at a nearby motel, first tried to sell the tape and declined to give it to prosecutors. He was arrested a week later on old warrants related to unrelated drunken driving and petty theft charges. The tape went into evidence at the officer's trial, Crooks went to jail and civil rights advocates decried his arrest as retribution.

Crooks said he moved to Las Vegas after being released from jail in 2003 and has not been in trouble since.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he was not familiar with Sunday's incident, but said that citizens have a right to film police in public as long as they're not interfering with the officers' duties.

"The police should know, and my assumption is most of them do, is that there's nothing illegal about filming their activities in public," he said. "Just as people who are on the street can be filmed by police -- and often are -- the reverse is also true."

 

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