LAS VEGAS (AP) — Four Las Vegas police officers have been wounded in on-the-job shootings in the last two months, but the one of the county's top law enforcement officials said he didn't see it as part of a "war on cops."
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo added to a roll call of local officers wounded since July 10 the names of officers shot and killed near Houston in Aug. 28 and in suburban Chicago on Sept. 1, and he told reporters that he's concerned about copycats targeting police elsewhere to gain attention and headlines.
"More often than not, they want to put their name to a crime," said the elected top cop of more than 2,500 sworn police and 750 corrections officers. Las Vegas Metropolitan police cover a county that is home to 2 million people and a hotel and casino Strip that draws about 40 million visitors a year.
But he added: "Is this a 'war on cops?' I don't believe so," Lombardo said. But he said he thought there was a perception of a rising tide of violence "maybe as a result of what's occurring across the nation."
Shooting deaths of officers across the nation are actually down 13 percent compared with the same January-to-September period in 2014. There were 30 shootings last year and 26 this year. Those figures include state and local officers, as well as federal agents. The figures also include two accidental shootings, said Steve Groeninger, a spokesman for the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Suicides are not included.
Lombardo declined to say whether there are too many guns in the community, and he said investigators believe the weapons used in the recent shootings of Las Vegas police officers were not legally owned.
Lombardo was flanked during a news conference by Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and top police officials from neighboring North Las Vegas and Henderson.
Assistant Sheriff Kirk Primas said the shooting last Friday involved two officers investigating a call about a prowler in the backyard of a home. Officer Jeremy Robertson was wounded in the upper leg by a .30-caliber bullet from an AK-47 assault rifle. Primas said a shotgun was also fired at police, but missed.
Two suspects, Clemon Hudson and Steven Turner, were later arrested.
Robertson's partner, Officer Malik Grego-Smith, fired 12 shots in return. But Primas corrected earlier reports and said it appeared Turner was wounded in the lower leg by his own AK-47, and not by police gunfire.
Turner, 24, and Hudson, 20, were arraigned Wednesday in Las Vegas on multiple felony charges including conspiracy and attempted murder with a weapon that could get them decades in prison. They remain jailed pending a bail hearing on Friday.
Hudson's lawyer, Dayvid Figler, and Turner's deputy public defender, Tegan Machnich, said their clients plan to plead not guilty.
The shooting on Sunday drew concern from Lombardo and Wolfson, who noted that two officers sitting in a marked patrol car appeared to have been targeted because they were police.
A 17-year-old was arrested after the mid-day incident at a busy intersection several miles east of the Las Vegas Strip. Police haven't said what they believe prompted the shooting.
Wolfson said the teen will be tried as an adult on attempted murder charges. He was being held in juvenile custody pending arraignment in the next few days.
"These officers were literally sitting at a red light in their patrol car. That's why the word 'ambush' is appropriate," Wolfson said. "When the cops are victims of violent and unnecessary crimes, the very foundation of our community's sense of safety is touched."
Three bullets hit the police SUV. One perforated the passenger side door, striking Officer Thomas Clevenger in the right hand. Two other shots hit the door pillar and near the bottom of the rear passenger door.
Officer Sergio Orizabal chased and caught the teen, who tried to toss the gun away as he ran, Primus said. The weapon was recovered.
Neither Clevenger nor Orizabal fired a shot.