Relatives of suspect shot and killed by Las Vegas police sue authorities
LAS VEGAS – Relatives of a teenage suspect who was shot in the back and killed by police while handcuffed and running away sued three Las Vegas detectives and the sheriff Friday, claiming civil rights violations and a pattern of police abuse.The federal lawsuit filed for the father and half-brother of Swuave Lopez seeks $23 million and calls for cameras in patrol cars and on police uniform lapels. It also asks a judge to declare the Clark County coroner’s inquest process an unconstitutional violation of due process under the 14th Amendment.A coroner’s inquest jury ruled the detectives’ actions were justified when two of them fired one shot each at Lopez. His death certificate says the 17-year-old was a victim of homicide, caused by a gunshot wound in his back.”The lawsuit seeks justice,” said attorney James Myart Jr.Clark County Sheriff Bill Young was out of the office and a police spokesman said Friday the department would not comment.A police union official who said he had spoken with the detectives – James Mitchell, Ken Hardy and Shane Womack – said they “just want to move forward and do their jobs.””This is just a continuation of people second-guessing the decisions that they made that day,” said David Kallas, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association Metro Inc.The May 13 shooting has spawned an investigation by the FBI and raised questions about heavy-handedness by the largest police agency in Nevada.Las Vegas police have been involved in 20 officer-involved shootings this year, up sharply from 13 shootings in all of 2005. Eleven people have died, including one who was stunned with a Taser. Nine died at the hands of police in 2005.Coroner’s inquests have cleared officers in each case, and critics say only one officer has been found to have acted improperly in 150 cases since 1976.The County Commission formed a panel this week to review whether the inquest system should be changed.”We believe the filing of this lawsuit will open eyes and ears and lead to meaningful change,” said W. Dean Ishman, president of the Las Vegas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.Gary Peck, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, pointed to discrepancies in detectives’ inquest testimony in the Lopez case, and called reviews of police shootings by a department use-of-force board and coroner’s inquests “a sham.”Inquests allow officers to be questioned under oath by a county deputy district attorney. The officers do not face adversarial cross-examination. Seven jurors decide whether officers’ actions were justifiable, excusable or criminal.Neither Lopez’ father, David Lopez, who lives in San Antonio, nor Frederick Lopez, a half brother who lives in Washington, D.C., attended the news conference announcing the lawsuit. Myart acknowledged that David Lopez had not seen his son for at least 12 years.Lopez had been arrested in the slaying of Kyle Staheli, 18, who police said had been shot several times before his body was burned in the desert in a dispute over a car.Staheli’s sister, Tiffani, 31, said her family planned to file a lawsuit seeking damages from the Lopez family. She said she didn’t agree that lawsuits should be filed.”This is blood money,” she said. “This is stupid.”
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