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Family accuses Henderson police of shooting, killing boy in lawsuit

A Henderson father has filed a federal lawsuit accusing police of fatally shooting his 12-year-old son during a standoff with a gunman that left three others dead.

The boy, Joseph Hawatmeh, was shot to death after Henderson officers fired 28 rounds on November 3, 2020 outside The Douglas at Stonelake Apartments, 1445 Stonelake Cove Ave.

Joseph was being held hostage by Jason Bourne, a 38-year-old man holding a .40-caliber handgun who had just fatally shot Hawatmeh’s mother and housekeeper, and fired several rounds at his sister, Henderson police said at the time.

Police refused to say if any of the bullets fired by officers struck Joseph, despite multiple inquiries from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“Officers were unable to rescue the juvenile before he succumbed to the injuries inflicted by Bourne,” Deputy Chief David Burns said at the time.

The boy’s mother, Dianne Hawatmeh, 38, and Veronica Muniz, 33, both from Henderson, died inside an apartment from gunshot wounds to the head. The injured sister was identified as Yasmeen Hawatmeh, who was 16 at the time.

Joseph’s father, Iehab Hawatmeh, sued the city of Henderson, Henderson Police Department, Henderson police Chief Thedrick Andres, the seven officers who opened fire, three sergeants and a lieutenant who were on scene. Two of the boy’s sisters also were named as plaintiffs in the complaint.

The officers have been identified as Jesse Hehn, James Pendleton, Philip Duffy, Brett Anderson, Jesse Lujan, Seth Price and Luis Amezcua.

“It would be premature to publicly discuss this lawsuit at this time,” city of Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards wrote in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed Oct. 25 and the family is represented by Roger Croteau, who could not be reached for comment.

Arguing for de-escalation

Iehab Hawatmeh and his daughter Layth Hawatmeh were on the phone with the 12-year-old for two hours, and heard gunfire the moment he was killed and the subsequent discussion by officers, according to the lawsuit.

“If the Police Defendants had assessed the current live situation as a hostage situation and acted consistent with reasonable police policy and procedure, the forced acceleration resulting in Joseph’s death reasonably could have and would have been averted,” the lawsuit read.

Video and audio transcribed into the 53-page filing detailed the conversation between officers when Sgt. Jaime Smith told one officer to fire if they had a good angle, but that gunshot set off a volley of gunfire that resulted in Smith hollering to “stop” and “ceasefire.”

Multiple people asked if the child was safe and out of range during and after the shooting, but no one answered those questions, according to radio transcripts detailed in the lawsuit.

The suit claims wrongful death, negligence, failure to train and supervise and the violation of Joseph Hawatmeh’s civil right to be safe from excessive force by police.

The Clark County district attorney’s office usually holds a fact finding review after fatal police shootings to present evidence to the public. Nearly two years later, no fact finding review has been scheduled for this killing.

A spokesman for the county could not be immediately be reached Tuesday morning.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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