Las Vegas police officer Ricardo Lara used a walker to get to the witness stand Friday.
Once there, Lara told a jury about the first muzzle flash he saw and the slug that hit him in the chest like a sledge hammer.
The third-year police officer in his late 20s explained how he fell backward to the ground in a bathroom on the second floor of a home in the southwest valley two months ago.
The doorway to the bedroom in front of him was dark, and all he could see were the muzzle flashes of a gun being fired. He said he could sense bullets flying around him as he leaned against a bathtub.
Lara, a father of two, testified he was thinking, “I need to survive this. I need to go home to my family.”
He said he aimed at the flashes of light and squeezed the trigger on his 9 mm handgun until it emptied.
Lara said that in the dark bedroom, he could see the man who had shot him, later identified as 28-year-old Justin Brimmer, on the ground and reaching for a gun.
Lara reloaded and fired 15 more rounds at the man until he believed the threat was over.
It was later determined that Brimmer, who died at the scene, was shot 19 times, mostly in the lower extremities.
Lara told the jury at the Clark County coroner’s inquest that in the 10-second gunfight late Feb. 26, he hadn’t even realized that he had been shot six more times after the first bullet from Brimmer’s .40-caliber Glock had been stopped by body armor he was wearing.
Lara said there was nothing else he could do but return the fire.
The six-person jury took little more than 30 minutes to agree with him, finding the shooting of Brimmer justified.
But one question that was not answered is why Brimmer chose to run from police and then open fire on Lara.
Just before the shooting, Las Vegas police had responded to a fight call outside Yummy’s Sushi and Chinese Restaurant, near Sahara Avenue and Cimarron Road.
Police found a red car they believed had fled the fight scene about a mile away from the restaurant. They tried to pull the car over, but the driver, a man who fit the description of one of those in the fight, black with braided hair, ran from the car to a house on the 2900 block of Jacaranda Drive, near Edna Avenue and Cimarron.
Officers gained permission to enter the house from the residents. As they searched the house, they found that a bedroom on the second floor was locked.
Lara and other officers ordered anyone in the room to come out. A teenage girl, later identified as Brimmer’s girlfriend, came out of a bathroom connected to the bedroom.
Lara told the jury he stepped into the bathroom and ordered anyone else in the room to come out or police would send in a dog.
The only response came in the form of gunfire, Lara said.
Investigators later determined that Brimmer had nothing to do with the fight at Yummy’s. There were no warrants for his arrest, and he seemed to have no reason to run from police in the first place.
Those facts gave pause to Brimmer’s family, who flew in from North Carolina to attend the inquest.
Brimmer’s sister, Tatum Brimmer, 27, said she doesn’t know why her brother chose to run from police.
“Maybe he was scared. If it was me, I’d be scared. Of course, being black and a man in Las Vegas is hard,” she said after the jury’s verdict.
Tatum Brimmer said her family was still reeling from her brother’s death and had not decided whether to file a federal lawsuit against the Police Department.
“I just don’t understand why they would shoot Justin,” she said. “I don’t see him firing the first shot at all.”
A second officer, 52-year-old Dale Jones, also fired four rounds, but none of them struck Brimmer, according to testimony by investigators.
Jones also was injured during the gunfight. He was treated for a graze wound on his chin.