Las Vegas officer in Trevon Cole slaying punished

Former narcotics detective Bryan Yant received a week’s suspension without pay for violating policy in connection with the controversial shooting last year of an unarmed man, a high-ranking Las Vegas police official said Thursday.

Assistant Sheriff Ray Flynn said the penalty was the harshest Yant could receive short of termination.

Yet for family members of Trevon Cole, the man shot by Yant, justice wasn’t served.

“There’s a higher source that I rely on, and that’s God,” said Nichelle Bratton, Cole’s mother. “He can take care of Yant far more than Metro’s management can.”

Flynn said Yant had until Wednesday to file a grievance against the discipline levied against him and chose not to.

In 2009, Yant’s salary was $79,067, police said.

Earlier this month, Yant was reassigned to an unspecified desk job within the department. Yant had been on paid leave since a June 11 drug raid led to the fatal shooting of Cole, 21, a low-level marijuana dealer. An internal policy concluded that Yant violated several agency policies in connection with the fatal shooting.

Word of Yant’s punishment outraged Cole’s mother and the family’s lawyer.

Bratton described Yant as “pure evil.” She said she was extremely angry that Yant’s punishment wasn’t more severe.

“He lost a week’s pay for killing my son and being negligent in the investigation and violating policy?” Bratton asked.

The family’s attorney, Andre Lagomarsino, said Yant’s punishment amounts to a slap on the wrist. He called the discipline against Yant “ridiculous.”

“He falsified paperwork,” Lagomarsino said. “He killed an unarmed man and was contradicted by physical evidence during the (Clark County coroner’s) inquest. And that’s what his punishment is?”

The most severe policy violations in connection with Cole’s shooting centered on how Yant prepared and served a search warrant. Yant also was found to have neglected his duty. The internal investigation also faulted Yant for violating other minor department policies.

Yant, hired by Las Vegas police in September 2000, has been involved in three controversial shootings resulting in two deaths.

In August, a coroner’s inquest jury deliberated for 90 minutes before finding Yant’s actions in Cole’s shooting justified.

Yant told the jury he feared for his life when Cole raised his hands in a shooting stance during an evening drug raid on Bonanza Road near Eastern Avenue.

That night, Yant’s narcotics unit conducted the raid. Yant testified that he kicked open the bathroom door during the raid and saw Cole squatting in front of the toilet.

The flashlight of Yant’s AR-15 rifle had just failed, but he said there was enough light in the darkened bathroom to see Cole and his actions.

Yant said Cole, who weighed almost 300 pounds, rose to his feet while moving his hands forward in a shooting motion.

After Cole was shot, he was found clutching a yellow tube of lip balm in his left hand. Police found no gun in the bathroom or apartment.

A baggie was found next to Cole’s body, and bits of marijuana were floating in the toilet, police said.

During the inquest, Assistant District Attorney Chris Owens noted that the evidence — such as the position of Cole’s body, the downward angle of the bullet through his cheek to his neck, and testimony from fellow officers who did not hear both a door being kicked and a gunshot — pointed toward an accidental discharge simultaneous with the door kick.

The inquest examined other problematic aspects of Yant’s police work in the Cole case.

Yant’s affidavit said Cole had a history of drug trafficking.

Despite having a copy of Cole’s California driver’s license with a physical description and date of birth, Yant confused Cole with a Trevon Cole from Houston and California, who was seven years older, at least 3 inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter.

Cole’s fiancée, Sequioa Pearce, who was nine months pregnant with Cole’s daughter, hid in a closet during the raid.

According to a search warrant affidavit, Cole, in four transactions during a five-week period, sold $840 worth of marijuana to undercover police. The marijuana totaled 1.8 ounces and led to the drug raid at Cole’s apartment.

Deputy Chief Jim Owens said earlier this month that a Use of Force Board voted
7-0 on Sept. 8 in determining Yant was justified in using deadly force against Cole. The board’s review is not considered a public process and is standard after officer-involved shootings.

Owens said Yant told the board his life was in danger during the shooting. Owens added that shooting an unarmed man is an officer’s “worst nightmare.”

“We never want to shoot an unarmed man,” Owens said. “But we have to go with what we know and what his perceptions were at the time,” he said of the board’s decision and Yant’s frame of mind before the shooting.

When convened, the Use of Force Board is made up of four civilians with no ties to Las Vegas police and three members of the Police Department. They include an at-large captain who does not supervise the officer under review, the training captain and a peer of the same rank who does not work with the officer in question.

The four citizens are randomly selected from a pool of people trained to be on the board. The board can recommend discipline against the officer from written reprimand to termination.

Maggie McLetchie, legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said Yant’s sloppy work on Cole’s search warrant was a major violation of Cole’s due process.

McLetchie said police should have harsher punishments than 40 hours without pay short of termination.

“The public is still going to have questions as to why he wasn’t terminated,” she said. “His behavior is not consistent with an officer’s behavior we want to be entrusting with power.”

Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638.

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