Killing fine, so long as there’s no ‘ill will’

Do we live in a free country, or a police state?

In a free country, police (to the extent they’re needed — more private property rights and less “public property” would vastly increase the ratio of private security guards) live under and must obey the same laws as the rest of us.

In a police state, government police enjoy special laws and protections that allow them to do things that would be considered crimes if done by the rest of us.

Back on June 11, Metropolitan Police Department Detective Bryan Yant led five other armed officers as they beat down the door of an east Las Vegas apartment late at night to arrest a suspected minor marijuana dealer named Trevon Cole.

Finding Cole in the darkened bathroom, where police assert he was flushing the dried medicinal plant down the toilet, Detective Yant, whose flashlight wasn’t working and who neglected to bring along a partner, shot the young black suspect dead.

On Aug. 21, a local coroner’s jury, instructed that they could reach another finding only if they believed Detective Yant had “criminal intent,” took 90 minutes to exonerate him in the shooting.

Despite contradictory statements by nearly everyone who testified — and forensic evidence that the fatal AR-15 rifle bullet penetrated down through the cheek into the deceased’s neck, meaning he had to be squatting or kneeling on the floor — Detective Yant stood by his story that he fired the fatal shot only after Cole stood up, turned and thrust his hands toward Yant as if he had a gun.

No gun was found in the apartment. Oddly, a yellow tube of lip balm was found in the dead man’s left hand.

In the estimation of the medical examiner and homicide detective who investigated the case, Cole turned in Detective Yant’s direction while crouched over the toilet. But based on how Cole’s body was found, the medical examiner said it was highly unlikely that Cole took a step toward Yant, as the detective claimed.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Owens noted that the evidence — including testimony from fellow officers who did not hear both a door kick and gunshot — pointed toward an accidental discharge simultaneous with the door kick.

It’s not the first time Officer Yant’s story has failed to match the physical evidence. Back in the early morning of Nov. 17, 2001, Officer Yant said he was chasing Richard Travis Brown, dubbed “The Candy Bar Robber” by police for his 41 heists, on foot. Yant told THAT inquest jury that Brown reached for a gun as the two ran down the sidewalk. Yant fired three to four rounds. Brown fell, face first. Yant said Brown then tried to re-aim the gun at him, requiring Officer Yant to fire three to four more rounds, killing Brown.

But crime scene analysts recovered Brown’s handgun on the sidewalk 35 feet away from where he’d been shot.

During this month’s inquest into Officer Yant’s second killing, Narcotics Sgt. John Harney testified about a number of errors leading up to Trevon Cole’s death, beginning with Detective Yant’s affidavit seeking a search warrant.

In Detective Yant’s affidavit, he mistakenly said Cole had a history of drug trafficking.

Despite having a copy of Cole’s California driver’s license complete with a physical description and date of birth, Detective Yant confused Cole with a Trevon Cole from Houston and California, who was seven years older, at least 3 inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter.

The false information on the affidavit was relied upon by the judge who authorized the nighttime raid.

But Detective Yant’s own testimony convinced the seven jurors that his actions were justifiable, a Clark County coroner’s jury forewoman said last week.

Shannon, who asked that her last name be withheld, said the jury never considered Yant’s actions criminal because it assumed “intent” to harm was necessary for an action to be considered criminal. She said the instructions given to the jury before deliberations didn’t define what could have constituted a criminal act.

“His testimony was taken in high regard,” said Shannon, 35. “He was the only one who witnessed the entire thing.”

No, Shannon. He was the only one who witnessed the entire thing … and survived.

Let’s say that a 70-year-old man who knows he has committed no serious crimes wakes up in the middle of the night this week in his darkened Las Vegas home, to the loud noise of his front door being broken down by home invaders.

He has only seconds to gather his senses as men come stampeding down the hall towards his bedroom. He manages to get on his glasses but not his hearing aid, so he can’t make out when the men — who wear dark clothes and no visible badges — are yelling.

He is, however, a combat veteran who has shot some trap and skeet in his time. He rolls to the floor. Grabbing his loaded shotgun from under the bed, he stays on his knees, steadies his elbows on the bed and takes aim in the dim light, to which his eyes have already adjusted.

As the badly organized home invaders with malfunctioning flashlights pour from the hallway into his bedroom, peppering the walls as they accidentally discharge assault rifles on whose triggers they shouldn’t even have their fingers, our home defender calmly and methodically leads his assailants, killing two and seriously wounding another by placing 12-gauge deer slugs through their heads and necks.

The remaining assailants pull back and manage to convince the resident that they’re police, whereupon he surrenders to the surviving officers, who turn out to have the right house NUMBER but to be one street away from the house they wanted.

Here’s what I want to know:

Would our 70-year-old homeowner be left free on his own recognizance for a couple of months, pending his coroner’s inquest, as killer policemen are?

At his coroner’s inquest, would the seven-member jury be instructed that they must find his actions either “justifiable” or “excusable,” unless they believe he went to bed that night with “criminal intent” to kill those cops?

Would the jury forewoman later be likely to explain that they had to find the killings justifiable because the homeowner testified “He believed they had guns and he was in fear for his life”? that “His testimony was taken in high regard” since “He was the only one who witnessed the entire thing”?

And, once our killer of two cops had been cleared by the coroner’s inquest system, would the local district attorney be likely to wash his hands of the matter, saying, “The coroner’s jury has spoken; there’s nothing we can do; he’s a free man”?

I don’t think things would be likely to work out quite that way. Do you?

But if that’s not the way things would work for a man who makes a split-second decision to kill two armed home invaders, then do our police live under and obey the same laws as the rest of us, or do Las Vegas police today enjoy special laws and protections that allow them to do things that would be considered crimes if done by the rest of us?

And if that’s the case, do we still live in a free country … or in a police state?

11 Comments to “Killing fine, so long as there’s no ‘ill will’”

  1. Rev. Michael Molloy Says:

    You hit the nail on the head. I have to assume that most Southern Nevada police officers are not trigger happy. It can be a dangerous job. But with so many officer involved shootings, especially the highly questionable ones you mention, I think many people are wondering like me if a badge has become a free pass on homicide. It is obvious to everyone except the authorities that the present “review” process is inadequate and essentially set-up to “justify” any and all police shootings. A recent letter to the editor by a retired police officer told how at least twice in his career he could have shot individuals, but instead took an extra 2 seconds before doing so, and ended up not having to shoot them. Not every encounter may allow for those 2 seconds. But 2 seconds is not much compared to a life.

  2. C.B. Spencer Says:

    Who is the most dangerous person in the country in a dark alley at 3 o’clock in the morning in the worst neighborhood in any big city?
    Easy answer, a police officer. He or she has a gun, a badge, and a uniform. They can kill you and get away with it!

  3. Ken Brown Says:

    Thank youVin,

    Thank you so much for your article on the police in Las Vegas. It seems people blindingly believe everything the police do is OK. I am from Oklahoma and it was very bad there too. If you wanted your parents killed just call police and say they were acting erratically. When the police came, if a man came out and had been asleep he would look erratic or had taken his medicine the police would start their commands and hollering and you could rid yourself of your parent and collect a check. One man had a rock and he was soon dead. Inquires never, ever find anything. The Costco murder is bad. There are to many do-gooders in this world “helping or trying to make themselves look good to management” like the Costco employee. Everyone wants to turn someone in for something. Then the police say they can only go by what was called in to them …..a man acting erratically…….how many people have to make ” a move for a gun or something ” to justify the killing of another, and I hear ” we have to protect the public” and ” we put our lives on the line everyday for the public” sometimes it is a little dangerous to be protected…….I think somedays they are in court all day or at a parade, is there life really on the line everyday?? They are paid like it……… Add up how many cops get killed VS how many citizens are killed or injured from police. With no punishment, why shouldn’t they get accomodations? if they are justified and killed the Costco guy and the pot dealer it must take a tremendous toll on their lives. This happens way too often. The psychological makeup of the people the police hire is flawed. ………I asked an official in Oklahoma why did the police always, and I mean always have to fire to kill the suspect, why not new technology, bean bags or something, the answer was “sir we do not mame people”

    Thank you for a great article especially the example of the combat veteran and him getting the same rights as the cops. Excellent

    Ken Brown

    p.s. do not forward to police.

  4. Josephine DeMille Says:

    Hi Vin,
    I read your Sunday’s editorial , Aug. 29,2010. I thank you for writing this editorial, because it seems that we are living in a “Police State”.
    I see our officers do things all the time that is not lawful, but they get away with things such as; 1. using their emergency lights just to get across the intersection.
    2. motorcylce policemen driving in between cars, just to get in front of cars. 3. and last but not least police officers getting away with murder and the coroner inquest going along with fabications and calling it “criminal intent”.

    I think about sometime ago, about an handcuffed running person, shot and killed by an officer, what “criminal intent” was this.
    I have lived in Las Vegas, over 60 years and it seems that our police officers are using their badges and tazers wrongfully.
    I was brought up to believe in the police and trust them as being trustful and above reprorouach. Now, I am wondering, when is all this scinceless killing going to stop.
    So, Mr, Suprynowicz, I applaud you on your editorial and hope many voters as myself read your article, because it left me thinking about “are our police officers living by the same rules as the citizens of Las Vegas. My husband, an retired Highway Patrol, said we are not the only state going thru this and I realize that is true. When is justice going to prevail.
    (Please spell check for me because I did not know how to use it on my laptop).

    Thank you for letting me vent. I will from now on read your editorial and would like to read some of your books.

  5. David G. Says:

    commenting on your article, i put myself in that same situation as that 70 yr old… i would do anything to protect my family from “Midnight” home invaders… almsot “Zero” visablitlity… how are u to tell the difference from invaders and law enforcement? under the circumstances of Trevon Coles’… would i be “justified” for protecting my family? or persecuted for “killing” a law enforcement agent?… in my profession, i deal with alot of police and have got to know them on a first name basis and i have ALOT of respect of thier profession… but when it it a “ONE-SIDED” story… and balistics can prove otherwise there has to be a moment when someone says, “WAIT! there is more to this story then only one person is saying!”… officers place thier lives on the line every single time they wear thier uniform… and i want to come home to my family when i take off mine at the end of the night… WAKE UP PEOPLE!!! we are in a “police state”… keep both hands where we can see them… oh… would you like to “see my papers?” oh im sorry my papers looked like a gun with “zero visability” i guess i should of had them stapled to my face… and when u shot me in the face you could check them afterwards

  6. John Brook Says:

    I was on jury duty recently and the first question the judge asked us, as part of voir dire, was could we follow their instructions and only their instructions. Of course, I had to say no, that the Constitutions, state and federal, trumped their instructions. At which time, I was thanked for my service and dismissed.

    So, the only way for honest and knowledgeable people to serve on juries is to lie. This is unsatisfactory.

  7. liberranter Says:

    So, the only way for honest and knowledgeable people to serve on juries is to lie. This is unsatisfactory.

    I guess this is truly an example of fighting fire with fire. Since Amerika’s “justice” [sic] system is based on nothing but lies and deceit, the only way to purge it is with a fatal dose of its own medicine. Of course it also goes without saying that lying is a right reserved exclusively for the professional criminals who run the system (i.e., judges, prosecutors, cops, and witnesses for the prosecution) and that lying by defendants, defense attorneys, defense witnesses, and jurors, mere mundanes who are expected to prop up the facade, will bring the swiftest and severest of retribution.

  8. R Says:

    “So, the only way for honest and knowledgeable people to serve on juries is to lie. This is unsatisfactory.”

    Well then,

    “…could we follow their instructions and only their instructions.”
    (of course the higher principles of the Constitution and my conscience supersede them, but that’s confidential.)

  9. PeaceableGuy Says:

    Vin, no need for a theoretical example about what would happen if an innocent defender was startled awake by home invaders: very nearly the same scenario you describe happened to a fellow by the name of Cory Maye.

    (Much more information at Radley Balko’s site: )

    Cory Maye was awakened in the middle of the night by loud noises coming from the other half of the duplex he lived in, and hid in the dark on the floor of his bedroom with his baby daughter. A dark human figure broke down his bedroom door and burst into his bedroom, upon which Cory fired several shots from a small pistol. Other people outside started yelling “police”, upon which point Cory surrended to them with rounds still left in his pistol.

    The figure who burst into Cory’s bedroom was the son of the police chief, and he subsequently died of his wounds. Cory was charged with and convicted of capital murder and condemned to be executed.

    Police reports and testimony concerning the incident were replete with the usual contradictions, changes of stories, and bizzare “expert” testimony by a fellow who claimed that he could tell that a different murder victim was killed by two individuals who had both their hands on the same firearm, solely from the angle of bullet wounds on the victim.

    Radley Balko’s digging for facts greatly helped Cory Maye escape his own murder, although he is still locked in a cage. So, the answer to Vin’s hypothetical scenario is of course “no, our 70-year-old homeowner would not be left free on his own recognizance for a couple of months, pending his coroner’s inquest, as killer policemen are.”

  10. PeaceableGuy Says:

    Another such example is what happened to Ryan Frederick. His house/garage/attached garage was burglarized a few days before the cops showed up and broke down his door. Having been alerted to the presence of strangers by his dogs and still wary because of the earlier break-in, Ryan took a .380 pistol along and started towards his front door to investigate. Accounts differ (and the police stories changed frequently over time), but there was an encounter of some kind at the front door, Ryan fired a shot, the wounded person later died, and Ryan was charged with murder.

    Here’s a quick summary:

  11. Jerry A. Pipes Says:

    Another one for the archive. Thanks, Vin.