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Metro homicide lieutenant, now retired, hopes he made a difference

Metropolitan Police Department homicide Lt. Ray Spencer retired in May after four years, serving as the longest running homicide lieutenant in at least 15 years.

Spencer joined Metro in 2002, working as a detective who handled sexual assault and child abuse cases, a sergeant with the internet crimes against children task force and finally as a lieutenant in the vice bureau before taking over the department’s homicide division in 2018.

“The work is very rewarding and fulfilling,” Spencer said in an interview before his retirement. “The hours are brutal, the lack of sleep is brutal. It is the most demanding job on the police department. No other assignment has you literally glued to a phone 24/7.”

Some killings will stick with the retiring lieutenant, like Liam Husted, a 7-year-old from San Jose, California, who was strangled to death and dumped near Mountain Springs last May. His mother, Samantha Moreno Rodriguez, is scheduled for trial in September where she will face one count of murder.

The woman told investigators she became frustrated with the boy, who had autism spectrum disorder, while on a hike between Las Vegas and Pahrump, according to court testimony from August. She shoved him, a Metro detective said in court, and he started screaming after he fell and hit his head. She then strangled the boy for 10 to 15 minutes, authorities said.

In the hours after Husted’s body was found, detectives worked tirelessly to identify the unknown boy. A local woman thought she recognized the body of her 8-year-old son, who was camping in the woods with his father and half-brother. A multistate Amber Alert was planned while detectives raced to find the 11-year-old half-brother, who later was found safe in the central Utah woods camping with his father.

“The fear I had early on that we potentially may not solve this case is overwhelming,” Spencer said. “With the information presented to me, I make the exact same call today. I would hope whoever is sitting in my chair makes that exact decision as well. When you’re dealing with the potential loss of another child, I want someone to make every effort to make sure that kid is OK.”

Spencer said arresting a suspect in more than 90 percent of the killings kept him fulfilled, knowing so many families were receiving closure. For the family of Raheem Rice, Spencer worried more than four years that they might never receive that closure.

Rice, 23, and a 17-year-old boy were outside a house party at Spring Blush Drive and Novelty Street in June 2018, talking with a group of people headed to another house party, when a black car drove by and someone inside opened fire. The teen recovered from his injuries, but Rice died from a gunshot wound to the back.

“I know who did it, we just can’t prove it,” Spencer said. “It involved two other people involved in a dispute. Raheem was innocent, walking to a party and was caught in crossfire.”

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Spencer’s case closure, or solvability rate, being over 90 percent was the highest percent nationwide. Lombardo called it the “gold standard.”

“The one thing I’ll say about Lt. Spencer is he’s driven the solvability factor up, the percentage associated with solving those crimes, which I have said publicly is the biggest influencer on preventing homicides,” Lombardo said in an interview before Spencer’s retirement. “If people know there’s consequences to their actions, hopefully they think twice before doing what they do.”

Metro Lt. Jason Johansson, who previously worked in the gang unit and sex assault investigations, took over for Spencer at the end of May.

The retired lieutenant is running for election to the Las Vegas City Council in Ward 6, where he said he would like to improve the quality of life for his neighbors, with a focus on public safety. He won 28 percent of the votes in the June primary, just behind Nancy Brune, and is expected to advance to November’s general election.

He is also hoping to spend more time with his wife, Gena, sons Tyler and Chase and puppy, Stormy.

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

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