One Las Vegas police officer was fired and a second has been allowed to return to work in the wake of a 2010 car chase that culminated in the death of a 26-year-old man.
Police spokesman Jacinto Rivera confirmed that officer Aron Carpenter was terminated March 7. Carpenter, a four-year Metropolitan Police Department veteran, had been on unpaid leave because of the severity of the criminal charges he faced in connection with the incident.
He awaits trial on charges of felony reckless driving and misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for his role in the May 19 death of Ivan Carrillo. Carpenter pleaded not guilty to the charges in February.
Rivera said officer Andrew Charles Ubbens returned to patrol duty on March 8. Ubbens, who has been with the department since February 2008, had been on paid administrative leave.
Rivera said Ubbens is on a probationary trial period, called “modified field training,” assigned to patrol with a veteran officer.
In January, Ubbens pleaded no contest to failure to use due care, a misdemeanor. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine and perform 50 hours of community service.
Both officers were accused of ignoring their sergeant’s commands to stop their pursuit of Carrillo, who was suspected of drunken driving.
A coroner’s toxicology report showed Carrillo had “acute methamphetamine intoxication.”
Rivera said Thursday that his agency’s internal handling of Carpenter’s and Ubbens’ cases shows that the Metropolitan Police Department is a paramilitary organization in which subordinates must listen to their commanding officers.
“It’s pretty clear when an order is given by a supervisor, it’s not a suggestion,” Rivera said. “It’s made to be followed.”
According to a police report, Carpenter 29, and Ubbens, 26, ignored three commands to discontinue the pursuit. The chase began about 10:20 p.m. on the east side of the valley. After Carrillo refused to pull over, the officers chased Carrillo’s vehicle in separate cars north along Nellis and Las Vegas Boulevards.
Ubbens attempted to end the chase by using the Precision Intervention Technique, also called PIT, to bump Carrillo’s car and spin it out of control. However, Carrillo regained control and continued to drive.
Carpenter is alleged to have radioed to his sergeant that he and Ubbens had broken off the chase, when they had not.
With the cars speeding at more than 60 mph near Lone Mountain, Carpenter’s patrol bumped Carrillo’s car, sending it into oncoming traffic and triggering a four-car crash that killed Carrillo. A person in another vehicle also was injured, authorities said.
Although Carpenter’s and Carrillo’s cars hit in precisely the way a PIT is done, Carpenter maintains he was not trying the maneuver, police said.
Carpenter said he steered to the right because he perceived that Carrillo was moving into his travel lane, the report said, and investigators agreed with Carpenter’s account.
Ubbens is accused of lying during the internal investigation, in which he said he never attempted a PIT on Carrillo’s car.
“It was only after the first interview had concluded and Officer Ubbens had time to think, did he request to change his statement,” the report said.
Police recommended criminal charges against Carpenter and Ubbens during the summer.
After criminal charges were filed last year, Deputy Chief Joseph Lombardo said the officers “chose to disregard the supervisor and took the matter in their own hands, and we know the results of that decision.”
He said the officers also turned off their lights and sirens. Nevada law, as in other states, allows for police officers to disregard some traffic laws, Lombardo said, but that doesn’t apply to officers when they have their lights and sirens off.
“When they chose to shut off their red lights and siren, they become a citizen,” he said. “And their actions led to the wanton disregard of the public’s safety.”
Las Vegas Police Protective Association union President Chris Collins said Thursday that both Carpenter and Ubbens were represented by his organization.
Collins said Carpenter might still be able to salvage his job because all terminated officers have the right to arbitration. But Collins said he’s unsure of Carpenter’s plans.
Collins said Carpenter and Ubbens were doing the best jobs they could on the night of the fatal crash.
“We had officers who thought they were trying to apprehend a drunk driver,” Collins said. “Were there mistakes made on everyone’s part including supervisors? Perhaps. But certainly nothing that I think would warrant termination.”
Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@review
journal.com or 702-383-4638.