LAS VEGAS (AP) — No criminal charges will be filed against a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed, disabled Gulf War veteran who refused to get out of his car in December 2011, the district attorney in Las Vegas said Thursday.
Officer Jesus Arevalo opened fire with an assault-style rifle believing that officers were under fire following a standoff with Stanley LaVon Gibson that lasted for more than an hour in an apartment complex parking lot.
In fact, what Arevalo heard was another officer firing a beanbag shotgun to break a side window of Gibson's vehicle, which was pinned between two police cruisers. Police had planned to inject pepper spray inside to force Gibson, to surrender.
"Mr. Gibson's death was especially tragic because there were so many missed opportunities to get him the help he so obviously needed," Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said in a statement accompanying his 21-page report
"The Nevada Supreme Court makes it perfectly clear that the mere perception of danger, as opposed to actual danger, is sufficient to warrant a killing in self-defense," he said.
The decision not to prosecute followed a grand jury decision last year not to indict officers in the shooting, and referred to information made public in a February proceeding that replaced formal coroner's inquests of police slaying cases. Police had multiple contacts with Gibson, who suffered from severe anxiety and depression, in the 36 hours before the fatal encounter.
Gibson, 43, was jailed once briefly on a resisting police charge, then found wandering in a busy street and taken to a Las Vegas hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. He was released from the hospital with instructions to check back two days later.
The district attorney also cited what he called a breakdown in communication between police officers at a chaotic scene where Gibson remained locked in his car, occasionally revving the engine and spinning the tires, sending acrid blue smoke billowing around the surrounding two-story apartment buildings while police ordered people off their balconies.
"I believe that if the officers were presented with these same circumstances today we would have a different outcome," Wolfson said.
Attorney Cal Potter, who represents Gibson's widow, Rondha Gibson, in a federal lawsuit against Arevalo, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and several officers, said he never expected the district attorney would prosecute.
"When they come out with a formal report, it's always in defense of the police," Potter told The Associated Press. "I was always skeptical with the grand jury, the dog and pony show that used to be the coroner's inquest for the benefit of the press, and now news releases."
Potter derided Wolfson's finding that Arevalo fired his weapon in self-defense or the defense of others.
"Unfortunately, the facts won't go away," the attorney said. "This isn't a self-defense case. There were civil rights violations. The only justice that's going to come is in the federal courthouse, when we bring witnesses to show what actually occurred."
Wolfson said he believed Las Vegas police have made needed policy and training changes after intense criticism of Gibson's killing, which came at a time the department was being accused of too quickly and too often relying on deadly force.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for a federal Justice Department investigation. Instead, officials from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program conducted a review of departmental policies.
They issued a report last November calling for an "organizational transformation" to train officers to resolve crisis situations without firearms. The COPS report also recommended that every officer and sergeant undergo de-escalation training in the use of non-lethal verbal commands, pepper spray, "beanbag" shotgun rounds and Tasers before resorting to handguns, shotguns or military-style assault rifles.
A police spokesman, Officer Bill Cassell, said Thursday that department administrators "respect the process and appreciate the extensive review and all the deliberation that went into" Wolfson's decision.
"We now as a department can go forward with the internal use-of-force review of this incident," Cassell said.
Arevalo has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. His representatives with the Las Vegas Police Protective Association didn't immediately respond to messages.
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