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Access to guns drives 2021 increase in Clark County homicides

Updated January 8, 2022 - 4:36 pm

Davion Treadwell spent nine months in the hospital before he died in September from complications of a gunshot wound to the neck.

North Las Vegas police said the 29-year-old was shot around 2:15 a.m. Jan. 23 near East Centennial Parkway and Losee Road. He died Sept. 10, but no arrests were made because detectives ruled the shooting was a case of self-defense.

Johnny Coleman said Treadwell was the oldest of his four children, a Mojave High School graduate and a practicing massage therapist. Treadwell’s mother, Marquita Coleman, said she was grateful that she had nine extra months with her son while he fought for his life. The woman said her son’s smile never diminished during his hospitalization.

“He’s still smiling down on us now, letting us know he’s OK,” she said in mid-December.

Data compiled from multiple agencies in Clark County showed that law enforcement investigated at least 245 homicides in 2021. That’s the most in the county since 2017, when 264 people were killed, including 58 in the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting on Oct. 1.

Treadwell was one of 195 men killed in Clark County last year. He was one of 169 people fatally shot, one of 109 Black people killed, and one of 19 people killed in self-defense, according to records maintained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Access to firearms

Southern Nevada’s largest law enforcement agency, the Metropolitan Police Department, reported 185 of last year’s killings. It was the busiest year since Metro homicide Lt. Ray Spencer took over the unit in 2018. In a December interview, Spencer blamed the high count on easy access to guns. He cited loaded firearms found in nightstands and cars.

“The access juveniles and criminals are able to get to firearms is concerning,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest reason on what’s driving our homicide numbers is that guns are so easily stolen and accessible.”

Countywide, gunshot wounds accounted for nearly 70 percent of all homicides, according to coroner data and Review-Journal records. Twenty victims were under 18.

Review-Journal data shows that at least 41 people were killed by someone they were in a domestic relationship with, including roommates, parents, children, spouses or former partners.

Another nine were children killed in abuse and neglect situations, and 10 people were killed in murder-suicides.

The relationship between the killer and victim remained unknown in 36 cases.

Spencer said the child cases stick with him most. He remembers walking into crime scenes where children’s toys were scattered and scenes where children were witness to a parent’s death.

“When I go into these scenes and you see toys in a bedroom and a mom senselessly murdered, it has an impact on anybody who works these scenes,” he said. “What could have been done to prevent it from someone killing another person?”

Spencer is scheduled to retire around May. In his tenure as homicide lieutenant, he said, he is most proud of the investigative work done to identify Liam Husted and to arrest his mother.

The San Jose, California, boy’s body was found in May just off state Route 160 in Mountain Springs. He was misidentified as another boy before a friend of Liam’s family who saw news reports contacted San Jose police because she believed he looked like Liam. Days later, his mother, Samantha Moreno Rodriguez, was found in Denver and arrested.

Liam, who had autism spectrum disorder, was found stripped naked in the woods.

“Samantha indicated that she had watched television crime shows,” a detective testified in August, “and thought that by removing his clothing it would make it more difficult to associate him with her after she left the scene.”

Rodriguez was indicted on a murder charge and is scheduled for trial in February.

“It haunted me that this could potentially be an unsolved case,” Spencer said. “We were sending pollen analysis to a lab from nasal swabs to see if we can determine what region of the country he was in.”

Nationwide, homicides have increased in at least nine major cities. Spencer said police departments across the country solve an average of 64 percent of homicides. As of Jan. 1, Metro’s solvability rate for 2021 killings was 91 percent.

“We’re going to close out the year still with a close to 50 percent increase in murder rates, but solvability is still going to be over 90 percent, which is unbelievable,” he said in mid-December. “My job is to make sure our solve rate stays above 90 percent, which is unheard of, but we’re still there even with the increase.”

Not included in the Review-Journal’s countywide totals were eight cold cases with new developments last year, including four solved by Metro using advanced DNA technology and a donation from philanthropist Justin Woo.

Among the cases Metro investigated last year were seven people who died before 2021. Their deaths were not ruled homicides until 2021.

Across the valley

Las Vegas and Henderson police also investigated five overdose deaths as homicides last year, despite the Clark County coroner’s office ruling them accidental deaths.

Seven people were killed in homicides throughout the year in Clark County that had not been publicly disclosed by a law enforcement agency, according to information provided by the coroner’s office. North Las Vegas, Henderson and Las Vegas police all said they were not involved in investigations of those deaths.

North Las Vegas police investigated 33 homicides last year, including nine gang-related killings, according to Review-Journal records. Homicide Sgt. Katie Gaspardi said police are trying to do more proactive stops to investigate gang activity as a result.

“We’re trying to push for more education with juveniles,” North Las Vegas police Lt. Alex Rodriguez said. “We try to not write citations or put them into the system, but educate them as opposed to booking them in the juvenile system with minor crimes.”

At least two of last year’s gang homicides in North Las Vegas involved juveniles, and several killings were in retaliation for a 2020 New Year’s Eve party shooting that involved rival gangs.

Henderson police investigated 14 homicides last year, based on Review-Journal records.

At High Desert State Prison, the Nevada Department of Corrections suspected Andrew Hilford in the fatal March stabbing of his cellmate, Isaiah Sharp. Twelve days earlier in Laughlin, Oscar Martinez was stabbed to death on Fort Mohave Indian Tribal land. Ethan Bright was arrested in connection with the death.

Across the board, law enforcement shot fewer people in 2021. Metro recorded 10 police shootings, six of which were fatal, and one resulted in a suicide. North Las Vegas police were not involved in any shootings, and Henderson police recorded two, one of them fatal.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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