NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AP) – Top Nevada law enforcement officials said on a community forum Saturday that they are committed to diversifying their workforce and engaging them in implicit prejudice training, but they faced tough questions, rejections and protests from members of the audience.
Republican candidate for governor and sheriff of Clark County Joe Lombardo, Attorney General Aaron Ford, and Clark County Attorney Steve Wolfson said at the panel discussion organized by the local division of the NAACP that they were also working on bridges between law enforcement agencies and the communities they are designed to protect and serve.
As the panel discussed their policies and procedures and the way in which complaints from local residents were being handled, they were interrupted and objected by some in the crowd, including a group opposed to the murder of a man by the Las Vegas police protested, who meanwhile wore guns and body armor, confronted officers during protests against racial justice in June last year.
Panellists, which included U.S. Homeland Security Officer Francisco Burrola, FBI Specialist Aaron Rouse, and Acting U.S. Attorney for Nevada Christopher Chiou, described how residents can file complaints with their offices. They also outlined their efforts to strengthen relationships with color communities. Most of them serve on a monthly multicultural advisory committee or send representatives to a monthly multicultural advisory committee where law enforcement officers meet with community members.
Lombardo said the multicultural committee recently looked at senior promotions in his department. He also said that complaints about his officers can be directed to the department and an independent review committee made up of residents, although the police department can decide whether or not to follow the recommendations of the committee on discipline, training, or policy changes.
Chiou, whose bureau is responsible for prosecuting hate crimes, said communities are a front line for reporting and need to notify law enforcement agencies so that perpetrators can be held accountable.
The North Las Vegas Forum on Racial Justice and Law Enforcement on Saturday took place more than a year after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. The murder sparked a race census and protests around the world, including Las Vegas.
Protesters on Saturday wore “Justice for Jorge Gomez” t-shirts referring to a 25-year-old who was fatally shot by police while carrying guns and body armor following Floyd’s murder in a demonstration in Las Vegas. Wolfson ruled in May that officials working for Lombardo would not be charged after Gomez’s death. Gomez’s family have called for officials to be held accountable and a federal wrongful death lawsuit is pending.
Wolfson and Lombardo were asked Saturday about the status of officials involved in a 2019 case in which Byron Lee Williams, a black man, died in handcuffs after Las Vegas police found him on a bike and on foot in 2019 had pursued.
Lombardo said he couldn’t comment, citing excessive federal violence, wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit that Williams’ family filed this week. Wolfson said that although no charges were brought by his office, the case has been “thoroughly examined” but “at the end of the day it is a very difficult decision to bring police officers to justice and to prove beyond doubt” to a court that they are a crime have committed.”
Williams died, as did Floyd when he told officers, “I can’t breathe.”
Members of Floyd’s family joined the Williams family when they announced the lawsuit.
Ford, Nevada’s first black attorney general and the only black member of the panel on Saturday, said he had a discussion with lawyers in his office about racial injustice and policing after Floyd’s murder last year.
“Some of them didn’t want to hear what I had to say about black experiences with police officers, and at the end of the day some of them voluntarily excused themselves from being hired. And that’s fine with me, ”he said.