DA clears police officers involved in three shootings

Clark County prosecutors on Friday cleared the Las Vegas police officers involved in three fatal shootings last year.

The district attorney’s decisions cleared officers of any criminal wrongdoing in the shootings of Tory Manvilla, Mauricio Hernandez and Jaime Padilla.

Manvilla, 49, had broken into a home and was wielding a knife when he was shot and killed by officers Feb. 15, 2011.

Padilla, 21, was killed by SWAT officers after he fired at officers during a standoff at an apartment complex Feb. 28, 2011.

Hernandez, 23, was killed March 8, 2011, by an officer getting coffee at a bar. Hernandez fired at the officer without warning and had been linked to a shooting earlier that day.

All three men had methamphetamine in their systems.

“These cases were a little more straightforward than some of the others,” District Attorney Steve Wolfson said, referring to previous fatal police encounters that his office has reviewed.

In the Manvilla case, officers Juan Guzman and Mike Henry responded to the 4700 block of Fairfax Avenue, near Tropicana Avenue and Nellis Boulevard, looking for a knife-wielding man trying to break into homes about 9 p.m.

Manvilla had pushed his way into one of the houses, telling residents someone was trying to get him as he looked to hide. When police arrived, Manvilla had locked himself in the master bathroom, the prosecutors’ report said.

The officers tried to talk him out of the bathroom and contemplated using a key to unlock the door. They ultimately decided to retreat and wait for negotiators.

That’s when Manvilla burst from the bathroom “holding a knife aloft in a manner consistent with attacking someone,” the report said.

Each officer fired one shot, killing Manvilla. Investigators found a 5-inch steak knife near his body.

Several of Manvilla’s associates told detectives that he often used methamphetamine and crack cocaine and had been “partying” with a girl the day of the fatal encounter, the report said.

About a week later, Las Vegas SWAT officers shot and killed Padilla at the Broadstone Montecito apartments, 9745 Grand Teton Drive, near Decatur Boulevard.

At about 10:30 p.m. several residents in the complex reported a gunman trying to get into their homes. The first officers on scene tried to catch Padilla, who ran from them before hunkering out of view. One officer talked to him for about 30 minutes, giving police time to evacuate nearby apartments and get SWAT on scene.

As SWAT officers moved in, Padilla fired once at them from a third-floor walkway. Then he tried to open the closest apartment door and raised his foot as if to kick it in, prompting sniper William Marx to shoot once. The bullet hit a metal railing, and Padilla ran with his 9 mm semi-automatic handgun pointed at officers, the report said.

Padilla ran around a corner with his gun pointed toward a group of officers, prompting them to open fire.

Le Aareon Fincher fired 11 times, Anton Gorup shot four times, and David Reid pulled the trigger five times. All three officers said their shots seemed to have no effect on Padilla as he ran past them, but he quickly collapsed and died.

An autopsy found Padilla had “toxic/lethal levels” of methamphetamine in his blood. He also had oxycodone and the metabolite for cocaine in his system, the report said.

His girlfriend later told detectives that he sold and used drugs, including prescription painkillers and methamphetamine. He had also been recently suicidal, she said.

Two weeks later, a Las Vegas police officer shot and killed Hernandez in a bar called The Bar at 1987 N. Nellis Blvd., near Lake Mead Boulevard.

Hernandez was sitting at the bar drinking a tequila and Sprite when Sgt. David Toney walked in about 8:45 a.m. The patrol officer was meeting a friend for coffee and had no idea that Hernandez was suspected in a nearby shooting that left a man paralyzed about an hour earlier, the report said.

When Hernandez saw Toney walk in, he jumped off his bar stool, aimed his semi-automatic handgun at the officer and walked toward him, witnesses told investigators.

Toney pulled his handgun and fired five shots. After being shot, Hernandez retreated into a bathroom and died.

Some witnesses believed Hernandez fired at Toney, though no spent rounds from his gun were found. When he stood up he racked his gun’s slide, which ejected the only live round in the weapon, the report said.

Investigators found a dozen live rounds in Hernandez’s car.

“The officer really had no choice,” one witness told detectives. “It was either him or him.”

The three decisions were the latest to be released by Wolfson, who began issuing the public decisions last month because the traditional forum for airing the facts of fatal police encounters, the coroner’s inquest, has been stalled for more than 18 months by legal challenges.

“It’s all about getting information out and providing the public answers that they’re otherwise not getting,” Wolfson said.

With the latest trio of decisions, Wolfson’s office has finished reviews of seven police-involved deaths. Twelve remain.

Allen Lichtenstein, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said Friday’s reports showed the district attorney’s office was getting better at writing them. He said they were more detailed and contained less “editorial content” than the earlier releases, which he had criticized for including irrelevant information that discredited the dead.

He supports the continued release of the DA’s reports as part of improving transparency and accountability in the review of fatal police encounters. And by dealing with the question of potential criminal conduct, the written decisions free the inquest to focus on issues with police policies or training, he said.

“The more open things are, the more information the public has, the more problems can be addressed and the more confidence the public has in the job police officers are doing,” he said.

Review-Journal reporter Mike Blasky contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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