NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) — Top Nevada law enforcement officers said at a community forum Saturday that they are committed to diversifying their staff and have had them undergoing implicit bias training but they faced tough questions, pushback and protests from members of the audience.
Republican candidate for governor and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Attorney General Aaron Ford, and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said at the panel organized by the local chapter of the NAACP that they’ve also worked to build bridges between law enforcement agencies and the communities they’re supposed to protect and serve.
As the panel discussed their policies and procedures and the way complaints from residents are handled, they were met with interruptions and objections from some in the crowd, including a group protesting the Las Vegas police killing of a man who carried guns and wore body armor while facing off with officers during racial justice protests last June.
The panelists, which also included U.S. Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Francisco Burrola, FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron Rouse and acting U.S. Attorney for Nevada Christopher Chiou, described how residents can make complaints to their offices. They also outlined their efforts to bolster relationships with communities of color. Most of them serve on or send representatives to a monthly multicultural advisory committee, where law enforcement officials meet with community members.
Lombardo said the multicultural committee recently weighed in on high-ranking promotions within his department. He also said complaints about his officers can be directed to the department and an independent review board made up of residents, though the police department can decide whether or not to follow the board’s recommendations for discipline, training or policy changes.
Chiou, whose office handles hate crime prosecutions, said communities are a front line for reporting and need to notify law enforcement in order for perpetrators to be held accountable.
Saturday’s racial justice and law enforcement forum in North Las Vegas came more than a year after George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a white police officer. The killing touched off a racial reckoning and protests around the world, including in Las Vegas.
Protesters on Saturday wore “Justice for Jorge Gomez” T-shirts, referring to a 25-year-old who was fatally shot by police while he carried guns and wore body armor at a Las Vegas demonstration after Floyd's killing. Wolfson in May ruled that the officers, who worked for Lombardo, would not face charges in Gomez's death. Gomez’s family’s has called for officers to be held accountable and a federal wrongful death lawsuit is pending.
Wolfson and Lombardo were asked Saturday about the status of the officers involved in a 2019 case in which Byron Lee Williams, a Black man, died in handcuffs after Las Vegas police chased him on a bicycle and on foot in 2019.
Lombardo said he couldn’t comment, citing a federal excessive force, wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit filed by Williams’ family this week. Wolfson said that though no charges were filed by his office, the case was “thoroughly reviewed,” but, “at the end of the day it is a very difficult decision to charge police officers and to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law that they committed a crime.”
Williams, like Floyd, died telling officers, “I can’t breathe.”
Member's of Floyd's family joined Williams' family as they announced the lawsuit.
Ford, who is Nevada’s first Black attorney general and the only Black member on the panel Saturday, said that after Floyd’s killing last year, he had a discussion with the attorneys in his office about racial injustice and policing.
“Some of them didn’t like to hear what I had to say about Black experiences with police officers and at the end of the day, some of them voluntarily excused themselves from employment. And that’s fine by me,” he said.