Updated April 16, 2020 - 7:34 pm
The North Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a $1 million settlement to the parents of a man who was shot and killed by police in 2018.
The payment is the largest North Las Vegas Police Department-related settlement the city is aware of, spokesman Patrick Walker said.
“I think it’s a significant amount of money and it’s definitely an acknowledgment by the city that these officers used excessive force, violated their training and acted inappropriately during this encounter with Gonzalo Rico,” said Peter Goldstein, who represented Rico’s parents in the federal lawsuit. “There was no need for the use of deadly force.”
City Attorney Micaela Moore said in a statement through Walker that the city opted for mediation before taking on extra costs that would come with defending the lawsuit.
“The city attorney’s office, while confident in the facts of the case, believes the mediator’s settlement proposal is reasonable to bring resolution and avoid a lengthy court battle,” she said.
Police claimed Rico hit the officers with a blue pickup outside of a house on Emmons Avenue, near Lake Mead Boulevard and Civic Center Drive. The officers, Ramin Nassiri, then 29, and Christopher Colwell, then 24, opened fire on him. Nassiri fired once and Colwell fired nine times, police said.
Goldstein said evidence suggested Nassiri’s bullet did not strike Rico.
The encounter came after the pair had finished a pat-down of a bicyclist nearby, police said. Police said the officers knew that a man wanted on a domestic violence-related charge lived at 2841 Emmons Ave. and that the home was the target of a stolen Ford truck investigation.
Outside the home were Rico and another man, both matching the description of the wanted man, according to police. The men took off when police approached them, the department said.
Rico ran to the Chevrolet pickup, which was backed into the driveway, and began to pull into the street. Both officers, whom the department said were in front of the truck, yelled at Rico to stop before opening fire, police said. The truck was determined to be stolen, according to police.
Neither officer was wearing a body camera.
Civil rights lawsuit
Rico’s parents filed a civil rights lawsuit against North Las Vegas in April 2019. The complaint, which also names Nassiri and Colwell, claims the officers violated Rico’s Fourth Amendment rights by committing an unreasonable seizure and using deadly force. The officers also violated Rico’s Fourteenth Amendment rights by depriving him of due process, the lawsuit claims. The lawsuit further alleged false arrest/false imprisonment, battery and negligence.
The attorney defending the officers claimed in a response that the officers held an “objective good faith belief that their actions were reasonable, privileged and justified.”
But the lawsuit alleged the officers had no information that Rico, who was not armed, had committed a crime or that he was about to commit a crime. Goldstein said the officers also didn’t know the Chevrolet pickup Rico was driving was stolen.
The lawsuit also alleges numerous inconsistencies in the North Las Vegas Police Department’s reporting of the event. According to the complaint, a news bulletin contained false statements in an attempt to justify the shooting.
“The bulletin states that both officers were standing directly in front of the truck when they opened fire, yet none of the bullet holes were actually clustered directly upon the driver’s side nor the steering wheel area,” the lawsuit said. The complaint said photos of the scene indicated the officers were off to the side of the truck.
But Goldstein said Thursday that evidence suggested Nassiri was in front of the truck during the shooting, and photos of the bullet holes in the windshield indicated Colwell was not directly in front of the vehicle while firing the lethal rounds.
Rico did not threaten the officers and the truck was either rolling in neutral or traveling at a speed of 2 to 3 miles per hour, Goldstein said.
“But it was never really a threat to the officers,” he said.