A step forward

The Clark County coroner’s inquest process has been in legal limbo for 19 months, as police and the public await a ruling from the state Supreme Court on the constitutionality of recent reforms.

Justices heard oral arguments on the matter Tuesday.

Local police unions have balked at the new process, which introduces an ombudsman who would cross-examine officers on behalf of the family of the person killed by police.

The unions have advised their officers not to testify at the updated inquests, instead urging them to invoke their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

So, in an attempt to restore some level of accountability to the public, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie on Monday unilaterally began releasing internal documents that detail fatal encounters between Las Vegas police and civilians.

The documents released Monday dealt with the deaths of three men in November and December 2010.

The sheriff said the document release was made possible when newly appointed District Attorney Steve Wolfson began reviewing the backlog of cases that would otherwise have gone before a coroner’s jury. Mr. Wolfson’s office has released seven such reviews since April, each one clearing the involved officers of any criminal wrongdoing.

For each case the district attorney has reviewed, Metro will release two reports, the sheriff announced: one an investigative summary report that details the police actions that led to the death, the other an administrative report that focuses on whether officers violated department policies and whether policy changes were made because of the incident.

The release of the reports is welcome, and a step in the right direction toward the transparency Metro needs if it’s to retain the confidence of the public.

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