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Officials don’t blame officers who waited during Las Vegas shooting

Updated June 29, 2018 - 8:29 pm

Local officials had only praise for the police response after viewing footage this week that showed two officers holding their position in a hallway one floor beneath the Oct. 1 gunman for nearly five minutes as he fired into the Route 91 Harvest festival.

Las Vegas Councilman Steve Seroka, a retired Air Force colonel, likened the Metropolitan Police Department officers’ position that night to being in the “fog of war,” knowing they were outgunned, walking into an unknown environment and dealing with communications challenges.

“I was so impressed with how they were proceeding. We know a lot now, but we didn’t then,” Seroka said. “I have absolutely no second-guessing of our police. There were so many unknowns and so much misinformation coming in. I saw nothing but professionalism and so much courage.”

The chairman of the Clark County Commission, which jointly funds the police department along with the city council, said it is difficult for him to form an opinion on what he saw in the video without greater context into any previous orders or instruction the officers may have received.

“I’m in no position, or have no expertise, to judge how appropriate their actions were,” Commissioner Steve Sisolak said.

And two local attorneys who have sued Metro both said it is unlikely the police department could be held liable in any potential lawsuits.

“In this particular situation the officers certainly have a duty to protect the public, but they also have a duty to make sure to properly secure the area for their own safety and other officers,” E. Brent Bryson said. “That was a very fluid situation was going on.”

Andre Lagomarsino agreed.

“The courts have held that police cannot be liable for failure to respond to an imminent emergency,” he said.

‘A protocol and a process’

The video was released Wednesday, the eighth batch of records Metro has released since an April Nevada Supreme Court ruling. The Las Vegas Review-Journal and other media organizations sued for the records after the mass shooting, in which 58 people were killed and hundreds more injured.

During a roughly five-minute period, at least one of the armed Mandalay Bay security guards who was with the officers reported the shooter’s location: “the 32nd floor, room 135.”

The body camera footage came from first-day trainee Elif Varsin, who was with Metro officer Cordell Hendrex.

“I know I hesitated and I remember being terrified with fear and I think that I froze right there in the middle of the hall for how long I can’t say,” Hendrex wrote in his report about the shooting.

Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin said he didn’t think there’s anything more the officers on the 31st floor could have done.

“They could have done nothing more except shoot their own people on the floor above, in my opinion. Only so much room there,” Coffin said. “Or be shot by the ones above.”

When Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman watched the video, it reminded her of federal emergency management training she underwent early in her tenure, which taught her that during emergencies — from mass shootings to natural disasters — everyone has a role and must follow protocol.

“There is a protocol and a process. For law enforcement, they’re even more structured that the rest of us,” Goodman said. “Everyone is responsible for a particular area.”

Commissioner Jim Gibson, who did not offer comment on the video, said it would be easy to second guess the officers’ actions in hindsight. But he supported the actions that officers took.

“I believe in the moment the department showed it was real organized and well-trained,” he said. “There isn’t much of anything in my view that they should ashamed of or would expose them to liability.”

Other county commissioners and City Council members could not be reached for comment.

Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @Journo_Jamie_ on Twitter. Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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