Revival of coroner’s inquests in Clark County gets little support

The public would lose the testimony of one in every five participants in coroner’s inquests if Clark County commissioners move forward with the hearings without the participation of the involved officers, an analysis by the Las Vegas Review-Journal has found.

The newspaper looked at all 29 inquests between 2007 and 2009, in which more than 260 people testified in deaths at the hands of officers by shootings, the use of Tasers or accidents. About 20 percent of the people who testified were officers directly involved in the deaths, raising the question of whether future inquests without their involvement would provide the public with a fair or complete picture of what happened.

Commissioners this month will have another chance to revive the quasi-legal proceeding that for four decades ruled cops’ actions justified, excusable or criminal. It has been stalled because of lawsuits filed by officers who have vowed not to participate in future inquests.

On Tuesday, commissioners are expected to debate the worth of the hearings, with a vote coming at a meeting later this month. But there appears to be little appetite among commissioners to resume the process.

A key argument against reviving the stalled proceedings is: If officers don’t participate, what’s the point?

Examining past inquests reveals that critical testimony would be lost in future proceedings. But the process would include the viewpoints of medical examiners, civilian and officer witnesses, experts and detectives, who all combine to form a picture of incidents that are frequently chaotic and aren’t often explained by just one witness.


The Review-Journal’s yearlong investigation into officer-involved shootings, published a year ago, included a review of transcripts of every coroner’s inquest since Jan. 1, 1990.

The newspaper found a flawed process where prosecutors tasked with being "neutral arbiters of the facts" commonly act more like defense attorneys, shaping inquest presentations to cast officers in the most positive light.

Key questions were not asked, and prosecutors sometimes gave helpful prompts to officers but not to civilian witnesses.

In early 2011, commissioners adopted changes that would allow a lawyer, representing the family of the deceased, to ask questions of witnesses alongside a prosecutor.

That prompted police to file lawsuits claiming the inquests violated their due process rights. There hasn’t been a hearing since.

But the Nevada Supreme Court recently disagreed with the officers’ position – with a slight change, inquests could go on, justices wrote.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani has been the only commissioner to say publicly that she wants to proceed with the nearly 20 inquests outstanding.

Despite its flaws, the new process has yet to be tried, Giunchigliani said. And just because officers don’t participate doesn’t mean the process should be scrapped altogether.

But if the past is any guide, future inquests could include huge gaps.

Between 2007 and 2009, two inquests had only three participants, including the officer involved in the person’s death.

For example, in the 2008 death of Ryan Rich, a 33-year-old doctor who had a seizure on the freeway and died during an altercation with a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper, only the medical examiner, a civilian witness and the trooper who used a Taser on Rich were called to testify.

A jury ruled the death excusable.

Although it remains unclear whether the trooper’s actions killed Rich, the officer’s testimony was critical to understanding what led up to the death.

On the other hand, those types of cases were relatively rare. Over the three years, an average of nine people testified during inquests.

In some of those cases, such as the 2007 death of Denise Glasco, there were enough civilian witnesses that officer testimony wasn’t critical to understanding the basic facts of the incident.

Glasco, 24, was shot by two Las Vegas police officers after trying to break into cars stopped in traffic along Martin Luther King Boulevard and lunging at officers with a knife. She was found to have PCP in her system.

Fifteen people testified at the inquest, including the two officers who shot her, the medical examiner who performed her autopsy, three cops who witnessed the shooting and nine civilian witnesses.

The civilians, collectively, witnessed nearly the entire incident, from the 14-year-old girl who witnessed Glasco "tripping" at her house hours before, to the bus driver who saw her shot twice.

They all seemed to corroborate the officers’ accounts of the shooting.

The inquest jury unanimously ruled officers’ actions justified.


The newspaper’s analysis did not include one certain point of contention: whether officers who witness another officer’s shooting must participate in an inquest.

If they don’t have to participate, future inquests would lack the testimony of at least two in five people who participated in the past.

Officers who shoot and kill a civilian could plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.

But it’s unclear whether officers at the scene who don’t shoot would have that right.

The state’s largest police union, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, says officers do have that right. But their argument is shaky.

Under changes enacted by Clark County commissioners, future inquests would not include verdicts of justified, excusable or criminal; they would have findings of fact, such as whether Glasco, for example, lunged at officers with a knife.

And while officers everywhere are rarely charged with a crime for civilian deaths, charging witness officers for the crimes of their peers is virtually unheard of.

No matter what happens, District Attorney Steve Wolfson believes there should be some public process. He already has gone further toward public disclosure of the incidents than district attorneys in the past by criminally reviewing the shootings and issuing a decision letter afterward.

"I am in favor of some sort of process that is more than … what is happening now, which is no inquests and decision letters from my office," Wolfson said last month. "Some sort of forum where a police detective and a district attorney makes public what happened."

Any vote this month will likely be split among the commissioners. In early 2011, when they approved the changes, Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Tom Collins voted against them. And other commissioners have been noncommittal to the process recently.

"It’s an emotional issue," Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said. "We all have to be accountable to the public in some way."

Advocates on both sides of the issue, including the police union, which is against the inquest, and the NAACP of Las Vegas, which is for it, lobbied commissioners last week.

Giunchigliani fears that there just might not be much interest in resuming the controversial process.

"I get that sense, and if it’s right, I’ll be very disappointed," she said.

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at or 702-383-0440.

Mojave Poppy Bees
Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list. (Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology)
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss. Susan Nash, 52, was killed in a shooting along with her daughter and one of her three sons on Sunday night. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Sayegh Cold Case Turns 40
Cary Sayegh was abducted from the playground of the Albert Einstein Hebrew Day School in Las Vegas in 1978. His body has never been found. (File Photo)
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vehicle of Interest in January Homicide
Las Vegas police released footage Friday of a “vehicle of interest” from a deadly shooting in January. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Hostage escapes clutches of robber before shooting
Metropolitan Police Department footage shows a man wearing a motorcycle helmet, identified by police as 27-year-old Mario B. Trejo, with one arm wrapped around a woman’s neck and held a handgun to her head.
Sunset Park Vigil
A small group of people gathered in Sunset Park to remember the three children recently killed in the area.
Henderson police bodycam footage of officer-involved shooting
Henderson police released body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting in a grocery store parking lot at 2667 Windmill Parkway on Aug. 12, 2018. (Henderson Police Department)
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like