Updated November 30, 2021 - 6:40 pm
Las Vegas police have decided not to pursue criminal charges in the death of a 20-year-old UNLV student at a fraternity-sponsored charity boxing match, but the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s chairman said Tuesday that the panel would investigate “every aspect” of the event.
Nathan Valencia, a junior, collapsed shortly after he fought in the Nov. 19 “main event” of an off-campus, seven-fight card organized by UNLV’s Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Four days later, he was dead from blunt force head trauma, according to the Clark County coroner’s office, which ruled the death to be a homicide.
Valencia’s family has blamed the school, the fraternity and the off-campus venue where the fight occurred for his death, because “they all looked the other way and failed to ensure proper safety precautions were in place,” a statement released through the Richard Harris Law Firm said. “We will hold those responsible for Nathan’s death accountable and ensure that this never happens to another son, daughter, or member of this community.”
Detectives with the Metropolitan Police Department’s Special Investigation Section were tasked with examining the event, according to an email from police officials.
Explaining the legal definition of homicide, in which someone dies in the hands of another person, regardless of intent, Metro said in the email that “detectives look at the facts surrounding the specific event that caused the death of the person and determine if there is any criminality. Although Mr. Valencia’s death is tragic, the circumstances surrounding his death are not criminal and no charges will be filed.”
Metro added that Nevada’s regulatory body that sanctions unarmed combat sports was tasked with “enforcement action” related to the event.
Nevada State Athletic Commission Chairman Stephen Cloobeck said earlier Tuesday that the panel would examine whether there were any paramedics on standby at the event, whether there was a licensed referee, whether the fighters were properly matched and whether any participants were under the influence of mind-altering substances.
“We don’t know, but we will find out,” Cloobeck said repeatedly at a virtual press conference. “We will look at every aspect of this event.”
Although the athletic commission had no jurisdiction over the amateur fight, it does have jurisdiction to investigate, Cloobeck said.
To sanction a fight, the commission requires those involved with the event, including contestants, promoters, manager, trainers and ring officials, to be licensed, according to state law. Insurance for medical care is among the lengthy requirements needed to obtain licensing.
A commission representative must be present during weigh-ins, medical examinations and fights to “ensure that the rules are strictly enforced,” according to the statute. A weigh-in took place in a UNLV Student Union Ballroom two days before the fight.
“They should’ve had the proper paramedics and medical personnel at the event,” Cloobeck said.
It was not clear Tuesday what the potential outcomes of the investigation would be, or who would examine the results.
The investigation was in the early evidence gathering stage, Cloobeck later told the Review-Journal.
Asked what the investigation will look like or if a third party would be brought in, he said that would be discussed in the board’s next meeting Dec. 13.
According to state law, the athletic commission can take disciplinary action against “any person” involved with unarmed combat in the state, regardless of licensing.
The penalty carries a misdemeanor charge and a fee up to $250,000, according to the statute.
The provisions, however, appear to exempt certain schools or “organization of a school” as long as the participants are students at that institution.
Cloobeck directed further inquiry to the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, which declined comment due to attorney-client privilege.
Cloobeck, who earlier had urged Metro to launch a homicide investigation, said that the fraternity, UNLV and the Nevada System of Higher Education “have a lot of explaining to do, in my opinion. They cannot duck, bob and weave on this.”
After Cloobeck’s remarks, the Valencia family said in a statement that the probe is “greatly welcome” and that they intend to “fully cooperate.”
The family has alleged that there were no medics present at the Sahara Event Center,800 E. Karen Ave., when Valencia collapsed.
In Tuesday’s statement, released through attorneys Nicholas Lasso and Ryan Zimmer, who specialize in personal injury and wrongful death litigation, the family alleged that “in years past” other fighters who participated in the charity event were knocked unconscious and needed hospitalization. The man in the role of the referee when Valencia was injured was not licensed, and was seen drinking during the event, the statement said.
“We will hold those responsible for Nathan’s death accountable and ensure that this never happens to another son, daughter, or member of this community,” the statement said.
Valencia’s family has declined interview requests, but his parents on Monday spoke to CNN.
Cynthia Valencia said that she had panicked when her son first mentioned he was fighting, because he had no experience.
She said she told him to pull out of the event. He replied: “No mom, I can’t back out, this is for charity.”
The night of the fight, she said, her family received a call saying her son collapsed, likely due to a concussion.
They later learned it took paramedics 15 minutes to respond, she said.
“He never was a boxer, he truly was just doing this because it was for a charity,” Cynthia Valencia told CNN.
Contact Glenn Puit by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter. Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at email@example.com. Follow @rickytwrites on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Jonah Dylan contributed to this report.