Civil rights group, former lawmaker speak on bringing change to DA’s office

By: - December 8, 2021 5:18 am

Ozzie Fumo at a campaign event. (Photo: Michael Lyle)

The deaths of Byron Williams, who died in police custody, and Jorge Gomez, who was fatally shot by officers, are still felt by the community and will most likely cast a shadow over the 2022 race for Clark County District Attorney.

Both deaths, as well as the role District Attorney Steve Wolfson played in handling those cases, were highlighted Monday by members of the Las Vegas chapter of National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by the Reverend Al Shaprton in 1991.

Chapter president Robert Bush said the community doesn’t need elected officials that “tell you something because you’re Black just to calm you down when they have no intention of doing what they say.”

“We need a district attorney who is going to fight for the people, who knows what a fight for the people is like,” he added. “We need change in that position.”

Wolfson, who has served as Clark County District Attorney since 2014, announced over the summer he was seeking re-election.

Local attorney and former Democratic assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, who announced his bid for the office in November, told members of the group Monday that “Clark County deserves better than what we’re getting from the current DA.” 

“I want to bring dignity and respect back to the office,” he said. “Let me be clear, the DA office is filled with some of the best and brightest attorneys in the county. Unfortunately they have lousy leadership.”

Wolfson didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Bush spoke of the frustration around Wolfson’s handling of the Williams and Gomez cases. 

Two years ago, Williams, an unarmed 50-year-old Black man who was pursued by officers because of a broken bicycle light, died in police custody after repeatedly telling officers “I can’t breathe.”

Wolfson decided not to file charges against the officers involved in his death. Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump filed a federal civil lawsuit in July against Clark County and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

Gomez, 25, was fatally shot by Metropolitan Police 19 times in 2020. 

“And the district attorney, our district attorney, released that case as well,” Bush said. 

Fumo didn’t speak directly about either case during the meeting but vowed that if elected his office would “promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice.”

While serving in the Assembly, Fumo focused on criminal justice reform bills including attempting to overhaul the cash bail system.

The Nevada District Attorneys Association, whose lobbyist works for Wolfson, has opposed numerous bail reform legislation. 

Fumo cited bail reform as another area he could make changes to if elected.

“Those of you who know me when I was at the Legislature, I wanted to stop cash bail imprisonment and filed bill drafts the sessions I was there because too often people in Clark County cannot afford bail and sit in the detention center waiting trial simply because they cannot afford the justice they deserve,” he said. 

Other areas of focus Fumo mentioned included treating addiction like a mental health problem rather than a crime, and working with the Attorney General to “sue big pharma on behalf of the people of Clark County for its role in the opioid epidemic.” 

If elected, he said he planned to expand treatment programs, such as drug courts, so more people are eligible to participate. 

“The jails and prisons in Nevada are ill-equipped to treat addiction,” Fumo said. “The solution to drug addiction is treatment not incarceration. I want to take a public health approach to drug addiction and stop prosecuting simple drug possession cases.”

He added he wanted to focus on restorative justice and rehabilitation as a way to end “the crisis of mass incarceration.” 

Bush said the fight over the district attorney’s office is just one area the group will be focusing attention on in 2022.

During the meeting, he and other representatives spoke on work being done within the school district around anti-racism policies and ways to address discrimination within health care, citing incidents at UMC. 

“There’s more work to be done,” Bush said. 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.