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Fired officer who hestitated during Las Vegas shooting reinstated

The Las Vegas police officer who was fired after he froze one floor below the gunman during the Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting was reinstated into the Metropolitan Police Department on Monday.

Las Vegas Police Protective Association President Steve Grammas on Thursday confirmed that officer Cordell Hendrex was reinstated after he was fired on March 20, 2019. Grammas told the Review-Journal last year that Hendrex was fired in connection with his actions the night of the attack on Oct. 1, 2017, that left 58 people dead and hundreds more injured.

Hendrex was fired nine months after body camera footage was released showing the officer hesitating in a Mandalay Bay hallway one floor beneath the shooter. The officer, accompanied by his trainee, Elif Varsin, held his position for nearly five minutes as the killer continuously sprayed bullets into the country music festival crowd across the street.

Metro in March 2019 did not provide further comment on Hendrex’s employment status after confirming he was fired. The department did not immediately respond on Thursday to request for comment and a request to speak with Hendrex.

Hendrex was reinstated through a union arbitration process, Grammas said.

“(The arbitrator) wrote in her opinion that she didn’t feel that his actions that evening rose to the level of termination or any discipline at all,” he said.

It was unclear if Hendrex was officially back at work as of Thursday, or if he will be reinstated to his previous position as a patrol officer in the Convention Center Area Command. He joined Metro in August 2008.

“I’m happy for him and his family. He hasn’t worked since he’d been terminated from the department,” Grammas said.

He said Hendrex was honest and “insightful” when filling out his officer report from Oct. 1, 2017, and “that was eventually used against him.”

‘Human reaction’

In his officer report, Hendrex admitted to being scared during the shooting. The report and records like it were released to the Review-Journal only after the newspaper and other media organizations sued for their release.

Body-camera footage from Varsin, who was on her first day in the field the night of the attack, showed that Hendrex froze for about 4½ minutes during the shooting.

The footage showed that Hendrex and Varsin heard an “active shooter” call over their police radios. They also heard reports from the radios of people with multiple gunshot wounds, and an officer saying “we’re taking gunfire.”

“We can’t worry about victims,” a different officer can be heard broadcasting over the radio. “We need to stop the shooter before we have more victims. Does anyone have eyes on the shooter?”

Hendrex does not respond but begins walking down the hallway alone.

“Where are you going, sir?” his trainee asks. But Hendrex does not answer.

Grammas said Hendrex had a “human reaction” the night of the shooting, and he pointed out that when SWAT officers arrived they also didn’t immediately burst into the shooter’s room.

Police wouldn’t swarm the shooter’s room until 11:20 p.m., an hour and five minutes after the last of the gunfire came from the room. Hendrex and Varsin arrived on the 31st floor three minutes before the shooter stopped firing, according to information from Metro released the month of the massacre.

“Everyone can say how they think they will respond, but when you’re in the face of something like that you truly don’t know,” Grammas said Thursday, later adding “we need to let people know that police officers are human, too.”

After the body camera footage of Hendrex and Varsin was released in June 2018, Michael Quinn, an expert in law enforcement tactical training and use of force, said in an interview it’s hard to judge any officers’ actions that night because “it’s such a terrible incident.”

He said it was his “gut feeling” that an experienced officer would have gone into the room.

“Would that have saved lives? Probably, if it went well,” Quinn said. “Would it have cost them their lives? Yes, absolutely. That’s part of the job.”

Grammas said officers had to make a plan and not “rush uninformed, unadvised, into anything.”

“We don’t just run in there in a doorway and just have four, five, six, seven cops die,” he said.

He said that after speaking with Hendrex, the officer is excited to get back to work.

“He doesn’t feel that there’s any ill will,” Grammas said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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