Less than an hour after the first strike team entered Stephen Paddock’s suite at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas police officers far from the scene were already sharing cellphone photos of the dead gunman.
Police body camera footage released recently under a court order shows a group of officers on a Flamingo Road pedestrian bridge near the Strip looking at a graphic image of Paddock’s body on their phones at about 12:20 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2017.
It’s unclear who took the photo or who sent it to the officers.
Calling it “an internal matter,” Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jeff Clark declined to answer questions about the image or to say whether any officers were disciplined for distributing it.
But according to former Assistant Sheriff Tom Roberts, some effort was made to track down the source of the leaked photos, which were taken inside the Mandalay Bay hotel room where Paddock shot himself in the head after murdering 58 people and injuring hundreds of others.
“There’s a department policy that you’re not supposed to send out crime scene photos for personal reasons,” said Roberts, who retired early this year before being elected to the Nevada Assembly and before the internal investigation concluded.
No one disciplined
UNLV criminal justice professor William Sousa declined to discuss this specific case without knowing more about what happened, but he cautioned against assuming something improper was done.
“I think most people would agree that taking pictures (at a crime scene) and texting them out to the masses would be an inappropriate thing to do,” Sousa said. “But one could envision some tactical purpose for doing that. That it happened doesn’t necessarily mean that it was inappropriate.”
In early August, when Metro released its final investigation report on the mass shooting, Sheriff Joe Lombardo said no department personnel had been disciplined as a result of their actions that night.
Apparently that hasn’t changed over the past four months, according to police union president Steve Grammas.
He said that to the best of his knowledge no one represented by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association or the police supervisors union was punished for leaking photos from inside Paddock’s suite on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay.
In body camera footage released by Metro on Nov. 21, an unidentified officer posted on the pedestrian bridge between Bally’s and The Cromwell reacts with surprise when the photo is texted to him. He holds up his phone to the officer wearing the body camera, revealing a picture of Paddock’s bloody head.
The image is not blurred, though Metro has digitally obscured other graphic or sensitive parts of the footage it has released from the Oct. 1 massacre.
The same photo of Paddock also pops up on the smartwatch screen of the officer wearing the body camera. It’s unclear if the other officer just forwarded it to him or if he also received it from the same unknown sender.
“So we didn’t shoot him, he shot himself?” the officer with the body camera asks.
Moments later, he turns to the third officer in their group and asks, “Hey, did you get the picture?” before showing it to him.
The officers’ exchange on the pedestrian bridge also is captured in separate body camera footage that Metro released Wednesday, along with 96 other videos, as part of its ongoing disclosure of records from the mass shooting.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal and other media organizations sued for the records in the days after the attack.
This week’s batch of videos marked the 30th court-ordered release since early May.
Metro said it will release another batch next week.
With few exceptions, police officials have declined to identify officers who appear in the videos or discuss what is happening in them.
None of the footage from the pedestrian bridge is clear enough to read the name of the person who texted the photo to the officers. The three men briefly discuss who sent it, but the conversation is inaudible or drowned out by radio traffic and other noise.
About 10 minutes later, a sergeant shows up to update the three officers on what he knows about the mass shooting.
“The guy on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay, he appears to be a lone actor right now,” the unidentified sergeant tells them. “He’s dead. He had a (expletive) ton of guns and opened up on the crowd. We have no other confirmed reports that he had anyone else with him.”
None of the officers mentions the picture of Paddock on their phones or offers to show it to the sergeant.
By the following day, leaked photos from the Mandalay Bay crime scene had found their way to several media outlets, including the Review-Journal.
The newspaper opted not to publish a photo of Paddock’s body that it received because editors deemed it too gruesome and determined it was not newsworthy.