Updated June 13, 2020 - 6:48 pm
Jorge Gomez was set to be in Las Vegas with his father for a few months after his work with animals in Oregon was put on hold during the pandemic.
After George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody, Gomez, 25, was drawn downtown for two Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and he had planned to attend another protest with his father and sister the next night. Gomez didn’t get that chance; he was killed June 1 in a confrontation with Las Vegas police.
Gomez had said he wanted to stand up for his First and Second Amendment rights, which he felt were being infringed upon. On the night he was killed, Gomez walked with a handwritten sign and a gun under his arm from Trump International to the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse, where he protested peacefully. He waved as officers passed by. Being a security guard and growing up in a family full of law enforcement, he sympathized with how hard their job was during these protests, his mother said.
He trusted they would protect the protesters and help keep things peaceful.
At some point in the night he met Carol Luke, who told Gomez the story of her son Thomas McEniry, who was shot and killed by Las Vegas police on Nov. 24, 2015. Gomez hugged her and encouraged Luke to keep “telling your story.”
He walked toward his car, parked in an alley near the courthouse, and texted his father, a K-9 officer at a nearby casino.
“Hey, a lot of streets are closed, I’m running a little late lol. If I don’t make it in time you can take an Uber,” the text read.
His dad waited. But at some point on that short walk Gomez spoke with an officer who then fired five less-than-lethal bullets at Gomez’s back. He turned away from the firing and toward four officers in a car, who said Gomez charged at them with a loaded rifle in his hand. The four officers shot Gomez 19 times.
A few hours after Gomez was shot, Sheriff Joe Lombardo told reporters that officers encountered a man armed with multiple firearms wearing body armor. The man reached for a firearm and was struck by gunfire from officers. He was taken to a hospital, where he died, Lombardo said.
Las Vegas police identified the staff members who fired at Gomez as Sgt. Ryan Fryman, 40, and officers Dan Emerton, 38, Vernon Ferguson, 36, and Andrew Locher, 53. All four are assigned to the police Professional Standards Division Organizational Development Bureau, an administrative bureau that monitors training and recruit academies, according to Metro’s website. None of the four officers was wearing a body camera because they are not typically in the field, according to Metro Assistant Sheriff Chris Jones.
Officers released surveillance footage from a nearby building showing the less-than-lethal firing, Gomez running down Las Vegas Boulevard and about 13 seconds later the four other officers shooting at him.
“(Gomez) wanted to make sure that any police — that anyone that wasn’t doing the right thing — were held accountable. And those that enabled, protected, those people were also held accountable,” said Gomez’s mother, Jeanne Llera, 48, who flew to Vegas after hearing of her son’s death.
Now, Llera said she’s looking for that same accountability from Las Vegas police, whom she said have changed their story multiple times. Llera created a website and held a vigil walk for Gomez where a representative for the family encouraged anyone with video from that night to submit it.
Llera expressed frustration that there were no body-worn cameras or any footage where her son’s death is documented.
“We’re just trying to show some type of clarity. So we can actually have a timeline. So we know what happened. Because there’s no video,” she said.
The funniest in the family
Gomez’s little sister Jazmine, 21, said her brother would do anything to make another person laugh. She remembers a summer home from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when she and Jorge went hiking and he threw his shoes into the river, finding it easier to hike without them.
She said the veterinarian pathologist in training at UNLV never wanted to see any person or creature in pain, which is why he was an adamant vegetarian.
Llera said she will always remember her middle child as the caring, compassionate man who wouldn’t let anyone kill a fly. She said she understands the stress officers are under and wishes they would receive more training to not “shoot first, ask questions later.”
“These officers are put out there: ‘Oh, you know how to shoot. Here’s a gun; protect everybody.’ I mean, if you think he’s doing something wrong, shoot him in the leg — you know, stop him. Tase him. There’s got to be some middle ground here. Especially since he was just walking to his car. I mean, imagine your kid is walking to his car to go pick you up and he doesn’t come home that day,” she said.
Luke walked up to Llera at the vigil for Gomez and explained her encounter with Gomez on June 1. Luke told Llera she was “giving you your son’s hug back.”
“I told her that was the last hug my son had, but I’m glad it was from a mom,” Llera said.