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Store worker claims Henderson police mistook him for suspect

A store worker alleges that a group of Henderson police officers and their sergeant pummeled him with fists, kicked him and jolted him with a stun gun last year as he tried to stop a shoplifting suspect.

Lawyers for James M. Herndon, an assistant manager at Sportsman’s Warehouse, wrote in a federal lawsuit that he was struck with the butt of a rifle and beaten while “attempting to communicate that he was not the suspect” with at least five officers and a sergeant at the outdoor sporting goods retailer.

Herndon suffered a bloody nose, bruised face and body, fractured orbital bones, a concussion, blurry vision, difficulty focusing on distant objects, unusual sensation in the teeth and palate, possible nerve damage, headaches and cognitive difficulty, according to court papers filed earlier this month.

Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said she was “unaware of this incident” and declined to comment on the allegations, saying the papers had not been served.

“The city attorney would rather be served officially than receive a copy from you,” Richards told a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter. “Until we are served a lawsuit there’s no way we can provide any insight into it. We would rather wait until we get the official documentation through the natural due process.”

The suit alleges a violation of Herndon’s civil rights, battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

It provides the following details about the events of that day:

— On the afternoon of Jan. 14, 2018, the Marks Street store’s loss prevention manager notified Herndon about a man who had returned to the store after being spotted trying to steal merchandise the previous day.

— The suspect grabbed several boxes of ammunition and dropped them into a basket before walking to another aisle. He then used a camouflage hoodie to cover himself as he tucked the ammunition in his pockets.

— As the suspect moved to another aisle, a wallet and handgun fell out of his waistband. Two other men with the suspect then walked outside without taking anything, while the loss prevention manager dialed 911.

— Sgt. Michael Gillis, along with officers Luke Good, Daniel Russo, Alex Nelson, Daniel Nerbonne and Eduardo Vega arrived at the store, with Gillis carrying an M4 rifle. Nerbonne and Good encountered the suspect in a clothing aisle and approached with their weapons drawn.

“They pointed at the suspect and ordered him to show his hands and not move or he would be shot,” the suit states. “The suspect initially held up his hands and dropped the basket, but he then began sidestepping to the east toward the front of the store, ignoring commands to get down onto his knees and face away from officers.”

The suspect started to run toward the store entrance, tossing merchandise onto the floor, before he collided with a mannequin and fell.

Herndon jumped on top of the shoplifter immediately before Nerbonne and Good pounced on top of Herndon “and began repeatedly punching him with closed fists on both sides of his lower back,” the complaint alleges.

Nelson then approached and “used overwhelming force to deliver several closed-fist strikes” to Herndon’s head, according to the suit.

Russo did the same, the suit alleges, before Vega ran up and kicked Herndon in the head and rammed a knee into his back.

Gillis then approached “and immediately struck plaintiff in the head with the butt of his rifle followed by punches” before deploying his stun gun, according to the document.

Eventually, the suit states, Herndon “was able to roll onto his side and communicate that he was a store employee and a retired law enforcement officer.”

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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