Sheriff Doug Gillespie answered my question.
It just wasn’t the answer I expected.
After reviewing the drug-bust debacle that resulted in the shooting death of unarmed Trevon Cole by narcotics Detective Bryan Yant and the recent cutting of a $1.7 million check to Cole’s survivors to settle a lawsuit, I wondered what a cop had to do to get fired in this community.
Yant filed a false search-warrant affidavit and pulled the trigger on an unarmed man. During the Clark County Coroner’s inquest, his testimony didn’t match the stories told by other cops at the scene.
Not only wasn’t Yant fired, it wasn’t even close.
Under the circumstances, my question seemed appropriate. And from the sounds of the many phone calls and emails I have received on the Cole shooting in recent months, the question was also on the minds of many Las Vegans.
Yant received a 40-hour suspension, but not for the actual shooting or for setting in motion a large settlement involving taxpayer funds. It was, in part, for committing a lesser transgression: carrying a weapon that wasn’t an approved color. (The AR-15 was camouflage instead of black.)
During a visit this week to the Review-Journal, Gillespie briefly addressed the Cole shooting. For starters, he was asked whether Yant faced future department sanctions.
The answer is no.
"That was already completed prior to the settlement, his discipline," Gillespie said. "… He was disciplined for sloppy police work."
And I thought the one-week suspension was a warm-up for the actual punishment. I was wrong.
As for that bogus search-warrant affidavit, it also wasn’t worth firing the guy.
"He’s admitted his mistakes, in the filling out of the paperwork," Gillespie said. "When it was brought to his attention, he admitted that he had made a mistake."
And, for the record, it makes no difference that the mistake — listing the wrong man — might have helped contribute to the death of the small-time pot dealer. But just because the search warrant was flawed doesn’t mean Yant lied, which would have violated the department’s truthfulness policy.
Gillespie defended his decision not to seek further sanctions of Yant because the officer’s story passed the scrutiny of the coroner’s inquest and the local use-of-force board. Never mind that the coroner’s inquest system has been a rubber stamp for the department. Using it as a barometer for action would seem comical if not for that body and $1.7 million check.
The fact Yant’s sworn testimony didn’t match the statements of other officers at the scene wasn’t enough to force the sheriff’s hand, either.
"It’s an officer’s perception," Gillespie said. "It’s an individual’s perception of what took place. His perception was consistent from that night as it went through the process. He stood up at the coroner’s inquest and presented the facts of the case. They came back 7-0 as an inquest in regards to the criminal side. It went to the internal side. He presented his case to the use-of-force board, which four citizens sit on. When it came to his use of force, they felt it was within policy.
"There were other actions that officer Yant demonstrated that led to his suspension as well as adjudication, and when I’m evaluating those particular cases, you know, I also look at it from the standpoint of would we prevail if in fact challenged from an arbitration standpoint. Which, when you’re taking someone’s job way from them, that’s the ultimate decision, they’re going to appeal that."
Sure they’ll appeal a termination. They might even win.
But shouldn’t the sheriff stand up and make the call?
If a bumbling detective can file a false affidavit, shoot and kill an unarmed man, cause a $1.7 million settlement, and still not qualify for termination, then there’s something seriously wrong here.
What does a cop have to do to get fired around here?
Fail to keep his story straight.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.Deadly ForceWhen Las Vegas Police Shoot, and Kill