I shouldn’t have to write this. This should be one of those things that, as they say, goes without saying.
But it doesn’t. Not in Las Vegas.
Metro’s Fiscal Affairs Committee on Monday voted to approve a $1.7 million settlement in the fatal police shooting of Trevon Cole. The unarmed Cole, a petty marijuana dealer, was shot and killed at his apartment on June 11, 2010, by narcotics Detective Bryan Yant during the service of a search warrant.
The case received a flurry of press coverage and has illuminated some of the flaws in the way the local justice system processes and scrutinizes police shootings. The Cole mess also has fueled critics of the drug war after it was revealed Metro narcotics detectives, after multiple attempts, had managed to purchase just 1.8 ounces of marijuana from the 21-year-old Cole. He wasn’t exactly Pablo Escobar.
Although the shooting was ruled justified in August 2010 by a coroner’s inquest panel, that process revealed a litany of mistakes and focused an extremely critical light on Yant.
Some of Yant’s fellow cops didn’t buy his version of events — and they were on the scene that night. Then-District Attorney David Roger wasn’t sold on Yant’s story, either. (I’ll bet Roger is relieved he wasn’t forced to defend the detective in his new duty as legal counsel for the Police Protective Association.)
Officers seeking insight into Cole’s background wouldn’t have learned much from Yant’s search warrant affidavit. It was so badly botched its very existence probably helped persuade Metro’s busy litigation handicappers to cut that big check to Cole’s girlfriend and young daughter.
The Trevon Cole of Yant’s affidavit had a different age and date of birth than the one living in the shabby east Las Vegas apartment. The wrong Cole didn’t match the right Cole’s physical description, either. But that might have been close enough for government work had Yant not shot Cole dead.
Yant’s mistakes so far have cost him just a 40-hour suspension. We’ll have to pay the $1.7 million bill. At this rate, he’ll probably qualify for a Metro stress retirement.
That brings me to today’s question: What does a cop have to do to get fired around here?
In the wake of the Cole debacle, no reasonable person can believe that Yant can credibly investigate future cases. Does anyone really think he can take the witness stand and effectively explain away the false search warrant, fatal shooting and $1.7 million award?
At best, he’s destined to be anchored to a desk or shipped into the hinterlands of rural Clark County. But unlike officers injured on the job who get assigned to lighter duty, Yant’s name will remain synonymous with what’s wrong at Metro — and what needs to change inside the police union.
The community is fortunate this case never went to trial, or that $1.7 million figure might easily have been many times higher. Had the case progressed, some troubling questions would have been asked.
Did Yant have sufficient experience with the department-issued AR-15 rifle he used to kill Cole?
Did the presence of reality TV show cameras from Langley Productions motivate the cops to strut their stuff that night?
(Note to Sheriff Doug Gillespie: It’s time to review the department’s infatuation with for-profit television productions.)
Police work is difficult and dangerous, and mistakes happen — sometimes big mistakes. But at what point is the mistake so large it eclipses a cop’s ability to do his job?
This isn’t Serpico, people. This is a guy who didn’t put new batteries in his flashlight before a raid that turned the bust of a minor pot dealer into a communitywide scandal and cost the department $1.7 million and much of its credibility.
And he still has his job.
Do I sound cynical today?
Protecting dangerous, incompetent cops breeds community cynicism.
What does a cop have to do to get fired around here?
If you ever find out, let me know.
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.