Over the past few years, many high-profile police shootings have played out in the media and court system. These have led to protests around the country, civil unrest, and the criminal justice system taking a harder look at the use of deadly force by police. This is also true for recent legislation here in Nevada.
The morning of November 17th, police were called to a robbery at gunpoint at the 1700 block of N. Decatur Blvd. The suspect fled in a stolen vehicle and attempted another robbery at a convenience store. When the store employee wasn’t able to open the safe, the suspect went on to commit a robbery at a credit union on W. Lake Mead Blvd., continuing to flee in the stolen vehicle.
The police tracked the stolen vehicle and suspect to an apartment complex near Tenaya and Cheyenne, where one of the officers hit him with his car. The suspect then got up, “produced a handgun,” and began walking toward the officers who yelled for him to drop his weapon. When he did not, the officers shot the man, who died later at a local hospital.
The Clark County Coroner’s Office has confirmed the suspect as 36-year-old Steven Thomas. The Metro officers involved in the shooting were 59-year-old Sergeant Donald Graham and 40-year-old Officer Amelia Lukac. Both have been placed on paid administrative leave pending a review of the shooting.
Depending on whether there was a handgun present, it brings up valid questions about the use of deadly force by these officers. In Nevada, police can use deadly force in particular situations, but only as necessary.
These include arresting a suspect, stopping a dangerous suspect from fleeing, suppressing a riot, or in self-defense or in the defense of others. New police reform measures in Nevada require law enforcement officers to use de-escalation techniques before resorting to higher levels of force, in particular deadly force.
Thomas had many run-ins with the law and was currently out on bail on an unrelated charge. But a witness to the shooting claims that he had no gun and that the female officer kept shooting, even as he was on the ground. Another witness reportedly was videotaping the incident as it happened.
The issue at hand is whether the officer was justified in the use of deadly force, i.e. if the suspect did produce a handgun.
Without the handgun, an officer would have no justification to use deadly force in this situation, let alone firing 20 times. This is now the 10th shooting involving law enforcement officers in Las Vegas this year.
While the police have a very difficult job on our streets and put their own lives on the line on a daily basis, deadly force by police is something that we are grappling with as a nation right now. Consequently, it will be interesting to see how this investigation evolves. While the police are tasked with upholding our laws, they should be equally held to them.
If you have been arrested by a law enforcement officer who has overstepped their authority, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney to understand your rights. The criminal defense team at LV Criminal Defense can help. Contact us to schedule a no-cost consultation.