School police feared for safety before Vegas park shooting

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2015 8:34 PM
School police feared for safety before Vegas park shooting

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two Las Vegas school district police officers feared for themselves and people in a busy park around them when they fired 14 shots into a vehicle, killing a 55-year-old former New York City jail guard who appeared to have deliberately steered toward them, a Clark County schools police captain said Tuesday.

Clips of lapel video played for reporters showed one of the officers apparently firing shots at a 2006 Hyundai Santa Fe SUV that crashed against a parked school police patrol car at the same spot where the officers had been questioning two teenage girls about a fight earlier at a middle school.

"I don't think he's going to stop," Officer Eric Schnaidt said before he and Officer Raymond Cruzan, who were outside the police cruiser, pulled their handguns and opened fire about 4:30 p.m. Friday in a parking lot at Desert Bloom Park.

Young said the two girls they were questioning scampered to safety. One can be seen in the lapel video image running away.

James Francis Smyth died in his vehicle with a loaded shotgun, several knives and a sword inside, school police Capt. Ken Young said. It was the sixth shooting involving district police officers in the 25-year history of the department, and the first fatal shooting.

Smyth didn't wield the weapons in his car, but he was leading a Las Vegas police officer on a lights-and-siren chase after sideswiping and then apparently deliberately ramming his SUV into the police vehicle several blocks away, Young said.

Smyth was a corrections officer for 23 years at New York's Rikers Island jail facility who moved to Las Vegas about 10 years ago, Young said. He had no prior criminal history.

Young didn't address records that showed Smyth recently went through a divorce, or neighbors' accounts to reporters that Smyth had become erratic in conversations in recent weeks.

"Smyth had an opportunity to avoid the officers," Young said. "It was evident to the officers that he accelerated toward them. In their estimation, he had bad intentions toward the officers."

Cruzan, 48, a five-year school police officer, and Schnaidt, 40, a school officer for three years, were three weeks into a 60-day pilot program equipping all 120 uniformed officers in the nation's fifth-largest school district with lapel cameras. The department has 163 officers covering 357 campuses and more than 320,000 students.

Cruzan fired five times, Young said. Schnaidt fired nine times. Smyth died in the vehicle.

The officers didn't record the complete encounter, Young said. Schnaidt turned his camera on in time to capture 30 seconds of the shooting. Young said the raw lapel video was evidence in the shooting and wouldn't be immediately released to the public.

The girls and several other witnesses in the park provided statements to police about the shooting, Young said.

Young declined to identify the Las Vegas officer involved in the chase, but he said he wasn't injured.