LAS VEGAS (AP) — A veteran Las Vegas police officer has been suspended and accused of misdemeanor battery after a body camera he was wearing provided evidence that he injured a woman he arrested for littering and loitering for the purpose of prostitution, authorities said Tuesday.
An expert said it might be one of the first cases in which a body camera has led to criminal charges against a police officer.
Officer Richard Scavone, 43, used "not only excessive, but also unreasonable" force in the 5 a.m. Jan. 6 scuffle in a neon-lit industrial area one block west Las Vegas Strip resorts, Clark County Undersheriff Kevin McMahill told reporters outside Las Vegas police headquarters.
"We're not going to shy away from bringing these incidents to light when a body camera captures actions of one of our officers that do not appear to be within the confines of law and policy," McMahill said. The video, as part of a criminal investigation, wouldn't immediately be made public, he said.
Charges were dropped against the woman, who received what officials termed a minor facial injury when a piece of pierced jewelry was ripped out.
Asked if Scavone could lose his job, McMahill said an internal investigation of the incident wasn't complete.
Scavone, an eight-year police officer, was wearing a camera as part of a pilot program putting the devices on collars and lapels of 200 patrol officers in the 2,400-officer department.
William Sousa, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, researcher assessing the program, said that while dashboard cameras have been used as evidence in police misconduct cases around the country, few cases have involved body camera video. Part of the reason is because lapel cameras are new, Sousa said, and because officers and people around them tend to behave better knowing they're on video.
In January, two Albuquerque police officers were charged with murder in the March 2014 killing of a homeless camper after video from an officer's helmet camera showed camper James Boyd, who authorities say had struggled with mental illness, appearing to surrender when officers opened fire.
Defense lawyer Joshua Tomsheck called Scavone a decorated patrol officer with an exemplary record who volunteered for the lapel camera program.
Tomsheck said he expected Scavone will receive an appearance summons to court, rather than face arrest. He said he hopes to resolve the case without a trial.
The misdemeanor battery charge carries the possibility of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"The circumstances that led to this incident contained a lot of additional information that was not released to the press," Tomsheck said. "That information will come to light in the future, and we expect the case will resolve quickly and expeditiously."
Camera video is reviewed every time an officer uses force on the job, McMahill said. He didn't say how many times that has happened.
In announcing the criminal charge, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson issued a statement vowing to prosecute officers who use excessive force.
"The vast majority handle themselves in a professional and appropriate manner," Wolfson said. "For those who take it too far, there are consequences."