Las Vegas police restricted when officers can use a technique to immobilize vehicles after an officer-involved shooting last year, according to records about the incident released Monday.
The precision intervention technique, or PIT, is used by police to stop car chases. It involves an officer using the front of a police cruiser to strike the rear corner of a suspect’s vehicle, sending it into a spin.
Officers receive annual training on the maneuver, which can be dangerous to the suspect and other motorists if the vehicle spins into traffic. Las Vegas police consider it “deadly force” if used at speeds over 40 miles per hour.
On April 19, 2011, officer Patrick Burke used the PIT after chasing David Paul Gonzalez, 32, who had fled when the officer tried to pull him over for a broken taillight. Burke told police that he wanted to prevent Gonzalez from driving onto crowded Las Vegas Boulevard, and the man’s vehicle was disabled safely at Flamingo Road and Swenson Street.
When the chase stopped, Gonzalez got out of the car and shot at Burke and his partner. Burke returned fire and killed Gonzalez. The officers weren’t injured.
Police and prosecutors ruled the shooting justified and legal, and an internal review team found Burke’s use of the PIT within police policy.
But afterward, the newly created Office of Internal Oversight, part of a series of reforms designed to learn from and limit uses of force such as PIT, revised the policy to make the technique more restrictive. To use the PIT, the suspect must have either committed a violent felony offense or be a “clear and immediate danger to the public.”
Police departments, including the Metropolitan Police Department, have placed restrictions on pursuits and PIT over the last decade because of the danger they can pose to the public. In 2010 two Las Vegas police officers were charged after prosecutors claimed they used PIT to end a pursuit with a suspected drunken driver, against their sergeant’s orders. The suspect’s car spun into an intersection, striking three cars. The crash hospitalized one motorist and killed the suspect.
One officer was acquitted after denying he used the technique. The second officer pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
Police on Monday also released records into two other April 2011 police shootings. The police Office of Internal Oversight did not find fault with the officer’s actions in the deaths of Michael Dean Chevalier and Abdul Hamlan and did not recommend policy changes.
Prosecutors reviewed the cases this year and cleared the officers last month.
The Metropolitan Police Department this year began releasing the results of its investigations into fatal shootings dating back to December 2010. Those records were not regularly released before this year.
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440.Clark County district attorney decisions on three officer-involved shootings: Michael Chevalier