Updated November 6, 2023 - 10:14 am
A Las Vegas man was acquitted of charges that the Bureau of Land Management officers used to justify a fatal police shooting last year in the desert northeast of Las Vegas.
Eric Orrantia, 34, was convicted of 12 charges related to automobile burglary, but a jury acquitted him of charges of attempted murder, three counts of assault on a police officer and failing to stop on the signal of a police officer, court records show.
The trial lasted eight days and concluded with the verdict on Tuesday, according to court records. Orrantia’s attorney, Phillip Singer, said he conceded that Orrantia committed the property crimes but argued that the state could not prove Orrantia’s intent to commit the other charges.
The prosecutor on the case, Chief Deputy District Attorney John Giordani, declined to comment on the trial before the sentencing hearing in December. Singer said he intends to argue for Orrantia to be sentenced to probation.
The Review-Journal last year, using internal investigative documents obtained from a source, broke the story of the shooting, which killed one man and severely injured two others.
The story showed that officers on the ground, who later said they were in fear for their lives, never fired at the stolen vehicle driven by Orrantia, but a trainee high above the scene fired a series of shots that killed Greg Davis Sr. and injured Orrantia and Carlos Cardenas.
The investigative documents also raised questions about the Metro investigation of the shooting, showing detectives appearing to lead the BLM officers to say they felt in danger. Body camera video shows the vehicle apparently turning away from officers as it tried to flee the scene.
In March 2022, BLM officers spotted Orrantia, Davis and Cardenas dismantling stolen vehicles in the desert. When the men tried to flee, officers set up a roadblock. They also sent the BLM trainee, Cody Negrette, up the side of the hill with an AR-15-style rifle. Negrette, who had a military background but had only been employed by BLM for a few months, repeatedly shot at the truck.
Experts on police shootings say most departments discourage shooting at a moving vehicle because it could run out of control and hit bystanders or fellow officers. After the shooting, the truck careened into a ravine, and Davis died on the scene. The other two men tried to flee but were caught by law enforcement.
Cardenas pleaded guilty to possessing a stolen vehicle and tampering with vehicles for the March arrest and was sentenced to a maximum of three years. All three men had extensive criminal histories for drugs and theft.
Singer said Wednesday that Orrantia did not realize that the roadblock was the work of law enforcement officers.
He said he believes “justice was done” after the jury deliberated for less than two hours on Tuesday.
“The evidence was really on our side this time, and the state had a hard case,” Singer said.
A group of about 20 law enforcement officers attended the closing arguments of the trial, Singer said. Throughout the trial, Singer said he repeated arguments he made during an August 2022 preliminary hearing — that the assault and attempted murder charges against Orrantia were filed “to keep Negrette’s job or to save face.”
“They’re cops,” Singer said Wednesday. “They all got each other’s backs.”
An earlier version of this story had the wrong location. The shooting happened in the desert northeast of Las Vegas.