A sexual assault suspect killed while Las Vegas police said he was attempting to escape was shot in the back, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said Tuesday.
The revelation corrected information released by his office Monday, which said John Paul Hambleton, 32, of Las Vegas, died from a perforating gunshot wound to the chest.
Murphy attributed the mistake to a "clerical error."
The coroner’s office has ruled Hambleton’s death a homicide. That does not equate to murder, Murphy said, explaining that homicide is a medical term. A coroner’s inquest on the July 1 officer-involved shooting is scheduled for Aug. 14.
"Inquests are convened so the public can determine if the actions of peace officers are either justified, excusable or criminal in nature," Murphy said.
The corrected findings support the statements of a witness who told the Review-Journal that Hambleton had been running away when he was shot in front of a vacant home on the northeast corner of Alexander Road and Helen Avenue. They also raised questions from a longtime critic of the inquest process, who is skeptical that the proceeding will resolve the issues that surround the death of a suspect shot in the back by police.
"The coroner’s inquest is a sham," said Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. "It is not designed to get out the facts and objectively answer questions about these kind of incidents."
Since the inquest process began in 1976, only once has an officer’s actions been found to be criminal during a shooting.
Hambleton was shot by detective Jeremy Hendricks, 30, an 11-year veteran of the force. Murphy did not detail how many times Hambleton was struck by gunfire. That information will be released at the inquest, he said.
After making their initial comments on the shooting, Metropolitan Police Department officials have declined to discuss details of the case until the inquest takes place.
Police had been questioning Hambleton, as a "person of interest" in the sexual assault of a girl under the age of 14. According to Clark County court records, Hambleton pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempted theft in 2003.
The interview took place while Hambleton, a physical therapy assistant for Mountain Land Rehabilitation, was working at the El Jen Convalescent Hospital and Retirement Center at 5538 Duncan Drive. El Jen is less than a quarter-mile from where the shooting took place. After the interview, detectives determined Hambleton was a suspect and arrested him. During the arrest, Hambleton fled. Detectives chased him on foot.
Police said a detective used a Taser, which wasn’t effective in stopping Hambleton. The pursuit ended outside a vacant house, where police said one of the detectives and Hambleton had a "physical altercation," in which the detective fired his handgun twice, killing the suspect, police said.
The shooting echoes a 2006 incident in which Las Vegas police shot Swuave Lopez, a handcuffed 17-year-old suspect in a murder case. Lopez was running away.
According to state law, a police officer can, after giving a warning, use deadly force to prevent an escape if there is probable cause to believe the person "has committed a felony which involves the infliction or threat of serious bodily harm or the use of deadly force" or "poses a threat of serious bodily harm to the officer or others."
The law was cited by police as justification in the Lopez shooting.
A woman who said she and her husband saw the Hambleton shooting was twice told by police to leave the scene. She told the Review-Journal that Hambleton was seven or eight feet away from the detective who shot him.
"They shot him while he was running," she said Tuesday.
Robert Farrell, chief executive officer for Mountain Land Rehabilitation, based in Salt Lake City, confirmed that Hambleton had worked for his company since February. The company provides therapy services such as physical, speech and occupational therapy.
Several attempts to contact Hambleton’s family have been unsuccessful. One relative, who lives in Arden, N.C., did not want to be identified. She said Monday that her family will most likely not question the police account of the shooting or pursue a lawsuit.
"That’s not the type of people we are," she said.
Review-Journal reporter Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.Contact reporter Antonio Planas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638.