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Las Vegas police identify officer shot during protest

Updated June 2, 2020 - 7:08 pm

A Las Vegas police officer was shot and critically injured late Monday as police attempted to take protesters into custody in front of Circus Circus during a Black Lives Matter protest, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said.

He was identified Tuesday afternoon as 29-year-old Shay Mikalonis, a four-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department.

“He is in extremely critical condition on life support,” Lombardo said of the officer during an early morning news briefing. “This is a sad night for our LVMPD family and a tragic night for our community.”

At an afternoon news conference, Assistant Sheriff Chris Jones said Mikalonis’ condition had not changed.

“He is still in grave condition on life support,” Jones said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

Mikalonis is a 2008 graduate of Arbor View High School.

In a separate incident, officers shot and killed an armed man Monday night near the Lloyd George U.S Courthouse, 333 Las Vegas Boulevard South. He was later identified as Jorge Gomez, 25.

“Our investigations into both these incidents will be ongoing through the morning and there are a lot of unanswered questions,” Lombardo said early Tuesday.

Lombardo said the officer was shot as a melee was erupting in front of Circus Circus.

“Last night as officers were attempting to disperse a large crowd of protesters in front of the Circus Circus, our officers were taking rocks and bottles from the crowd,” Lombardo said. “Officers were attempting to get some of the protesters in custody when a shot rang out, our officer went down.”

Lombardo said the officer was transported to University Medical Center in critical condition.

“The suspect has been identified in the last hour and was taken into custody by our SWAT officers and K-9 units,” Lombardo said during a 3:35 a.m. briefing.

Jail and court records identify the suspect as 20-year-old Edgar Samaniego.

Single round fired

A well-placed law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity said the shooting happened as the officer was handcuffing an individual.

“The suspect was approximately 50 feet away and fired one round,” the source said.

The round caused a severe head and spinal injury, the source said.

Later Tuesday morning, Lombardo was seen visiting University Medical Center, where the wounded officer was hospitalized. The sheriff walked out of the hospital and spoke with officers in front of the hospital before leaving. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman also was seen leaving the hospital after visiting Tuesday morning.

Several law enforcement personnel wearing suits were observed going into the hospital. Also parked in front of the hospital was a large trailer associated with the Fraternal Order of Police.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a tweet that “the State is in contact with local law enforcement and continues to monitor the situation.”

He later issued a statement saying he was “praying for the LVMPD officer who was senselessly shot,” as well as for “all of the communities across Nevada who are experiencing grief and pain right now.”

“And it’s during these trying times we must remind ourselves that creating a state where justice and peace exist together in partnership, not as a binary choice, is the goal we must all work toward,” he said in the statement, later adding that “violence has no place in our communities and we must all work toward peaceful solutions together. As your Governor, I am committed to listening, heeding calls to action, and healing.”

Sisolak visited University Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon and was observed speaking with officers in front of the hospital. He was overheard saying, “We appreciate everything you do.” He declined to speak to the media before departing.

Metro’s Bolden area command tweeted shortly after 12:30 a.m. Tuesday: “In this moment we ask for prayers for our law enforcement community. Let us join together in prayer for the peace of our city.”

Steve Grammas, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, described Mikalonis as “a great cop and a great person.”

“I talked to some of his partners — nothing but the highest regard for him and what type of person he is. Very caring,” Grammas said.

He said he also talked to the officer’s family members throughout the day Tuesday.

“His mom, stepdad and brother all had great things to say about him,” Grammas said. “One of the really good ones. We should have more people like him.”

Grammas said he understands that the man suspected of shooting the officer during the protest doesn’t represent all demonstrators. He said the police don’t condone Floyd’s killing and understand why people are protesting, even when they “say nasty things” to officers.

“There are a lot of really good people that are just trying to go out and express themselves in a peaceful way,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that these other people that are hell-bent on doing violent things are making the whole group look bad.”

‘This has to stop today’

A steady stream of tweets and statements from Nevada officials condemned the shooting and offered support for the critically wounded officer.

Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony responded to news of the officer shot on Twitter, calling for a harsher response from law enforcement and calling demonstrators “violent thugs.”

“This has to stop today,” said Anthony, a retired Metro captain. “Violent thugs do not control our community. Implement a curfew. Call out the national guard, police need help. Arrest all violent rioters immediately. No bail. Law and order.”

State Attorney General Aaron Ford also issued a statement saying he was heartbroken to hear of the shootings. He said he supports the “thousands of Nevadans who have peacefully protested against racial injustice.”

But, Ford said, “This country will not absolve its violent history with a violent future. Americans have made great strides towards equality because passionate people took the heat of their anger and used it to forge real change…Donate to a cause, volunteer with an organization and participate in our elections.”

Henderson Police Chief Thedrick Andres asked the public to pray for Metro “and their Officer fighting for his life after being shot in the line of duty.”

“These acts of violence must stop in our community! I pray for peace and unity in our communities,” he said in a tweet.

In separate tweets, Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen said they are monitoring the shooting of the Las Vegas police officer.

“We don’t have all of the details yet, but one thing is clear: this violence is unacceptable,” Masto tweeted.

Rosen tweeted: “My heart breaks for our community & the officer’s family during these times of great despair, & I remain steadfast that we much condemn violence in all its forms.”

Sweet show of support

Shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday, Las Vegas resident Londell McPherson showed up at University Medical Center to deliver two boxes of doughnuts to officers in a show of support.

“I’m seeing how our country is getting burned down, looting, and police officers are out there trying to hold the peace on protests,” McPherson said. “My heart goes out to them. They put themselves on the line.”

McPherson, who said he was recently laid off from his job in the hospitality industry, said he was acting to further the message of Martin Luther King Jr.

“Sure, there is injustice in this country,” he said. “We all need to come together, come up with solutions. The burning, the looting is part of the problem.”

Another show of support for law enforcement unfolded just before noon when Theresa Ann Babcock, 7, showed up at the hospital dressed as a police officer and handed out water to Las Vegas police.

“It’s hot out here,” she said, adding that she wanted the officers “to have a refreshing drink and stay hydrated.”

The child said she wants to be an officer who handles K-9 units when she grows up.

“I love dogs, and I love officers, too,” she said.

Her father, Robert Babcock of Las Vegas, said that “when she found out there was an officer that was hurt today, she was really sad and she wanted to come out here.”

As of midmorning Tuesday, there appeared to be no police presence in front of Circus Circus, where the officer was shot. Streets on Las Vegas Boulevard that were closed during the protest have since been reopened.

Las Vegas was not the only city where an officer was shot during protests on Monday. In St. Louis, four officers were shot during demonstrations that began peacefully.

The St. Louis Police Department tweeted early Tuesday that the officers were taken to a hospital with injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening. It was unclear who had fired the shots, according to The Associated Press.

Fatal downtown encounter

In the second Las Vegas incident, the sheriff said Las Vegas police and federal officers were posted at the stairs of the Foley Federal Building, across the street from the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse, to protect it from protesters.

“At approximately 11:22 p.m., officers encountered a subject who was armed with multiple firearms and appeared to be wearing body armor,” Lombardo said. “During the interaction the subject reached for a firearm and the officers engaged him. The suspect was struck by gunfire and transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced deceased.”

Lombardo could not confirm that the man shot by police was involved in the protest but said the location of the shooting “would lead one to believe that he was.”

The shootings came after hours of peaceful protests that started about 7 p.m. on the Strip and had moved downtown by 10 p.m. Most in the crowd of hundreds began dispersing after 11 p.m.

Lombardo said, “What has occurred is utterly unacceptable. I hope the community sees it that way too.”

Prayers for Mikalonis

Danielle Ayers was among about 60 people who gathered outside the medical center to pray for officer Mikalonis on Tuesday evening.

Ayers is a black woman who said she normally isn’t an activist, but she felt called to come stand with the group to show that people don’t have to choose a side. She held a sign that read, “Black lives matter & black lives support you, Officer Mikalonis!”

“You can be, you should be, mutually human to both facts,” Ayers said. “I do believe black lives matter, but I also believe an officer got shot trying to protect us.”

Lindsey Pinapfel, a line-dancing friend of Mikalonis, gazed nervously up at the large brick hospital while holding up a black and white American flag with a blue stripe through the middle.

Pinapfel said she was texting Mikalonis on Monday morning, hours before he was shot. She said they talked about how badly they wanted the protests to stop.

“One of the last things I said to him was, ‘Be safe,’” Pinapfel said.

She said she’s had a hard time collecting her thoughts since her friend was shot.

“I don’t know that I have thoughts, other than that I want him to pull through,” Pinapfel said. “I want him to be with us.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.Contact Alexis Egeland at aegeland@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0335. Follow @alexis_egeland on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Katelyn Newberg and intern Amanda Bradford contributed to this report.

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