A video still of Jorge Gomez in late May, walking past police on the Las Vegas Strip during protests of the police killing of George Floyd. (Video courtesy LVMPD.)
The lead investigator into the fatal shooting of a 25-year old Las Vegas man at the hands of Metropolitan Police contradicted the department’s own report as well as his own investigation during a fact-finding hearing Friday.
Jason Leavitt, of Metro’s Force Investigation Team, testified police fired non-lethal rounds at Jorge Gomez after he ran from them during a June 1 Black Lives Matter protest.
“At 11:21 an officer started to approach Gomez,” Leavitt read from a powerpoint timeline, reportedly based on his investigation. “Gomez then runs northbound. At that time, low-lethal bean bag shotgun was fired at Gomez.”
But the officer who shot the bean bags, John Squeo, told investigators in a written statement it was the non-lethal rounds he fired at Gomez that sent the 25 year old running head-on into oncoming officers, who fired 19 rounds, killing Gomez.
Attorneys representing Gomez’ family in a federal lawsuit have contended the actions of the police prompted the young man to run.
Metro’s Key Findings, Conclusions and/or Recommendations, posted on the department’s website, also says it was Squeo’s non-lethal shots that made Gomez flee.
“As the officers made their way toward Gomez, he moved his hands toward his waist area. The low lethal shotgun officer perceived Gomez was going to use the baseball bat against the approaching officers,” says the report. “The officer used the low lethal shotgun, discharging multiple bean bag rounds at Gomez, striking him in the torso area. Immediately after being struck, Gomez ran northbound along the sidewalk of Las Vegas Boulevard South, in front of the courthouse, away from the officer who utilized the low lethal shotgun, but toward a group of civilians. As Gomez ran, the low lethal shotgun officer discharged another bean bag round at him.”
Leavitt’s investigative report, posted Friday on Metro’s website, contradicts his testimony and says Gomez ran in response to the non-lethal rounds.
“Detective Squeo believed Gomez was going to strike the arresting officers with the bat, and he fired four to five low lethality bean bag shotgun rounds at Gomez, striking him in the torso. Gomez turned and ran north from the courthouse steps, tripped, and fell to the ground,” Leavitt’s report says.
Squeo mistook Gomez’ gun for a baseball bat. Videos of Gomez at the protest, show him carrying a long gun and appearing compliant with Nevada law that allows weapons to be carried openly.
One Metro sergeant issued an order to “grab the gun guy” if they had a chance, Leavitt testified. He added that Gomez had been identified as an inciter. Gomez was never apprehended.
Later, Gomez is seen on video walking in front of the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse on Las Vegas Boulevard after police ordered protesters to disperse. That’s where he caught the attention of law enforcement perched atop the stairs.
Minutes earlier, word had quickly spread of an officer shot in the head just miles away on the Las Vegas Strip at the scene of another protest.
Leavitt testified the “heightened sense of awareness” arising from the shooting of the officer may have influenced the reactions of police.
Attorneys representing Gomez’ family in the federal lawsuit have also said police may have overreacted.
Dozens of police who are not routinely assigned to patrol had been called on to keep the peace, including the four weapons training officers who fired lethal rounds at Gomez.
Metro has identified the officers as Sgt. Ryan Fryman, Officer Dan Emerton, Officer Vernon Ferguson and Officer Andrew Locher.
All four officers declined to provide written statements to investigators but participated in a “walk through,” in which they offered assistance with the investigation, Leavitt said.
Several, according to Leavitt, said they believed Gomez was leveling his long gun at them while another said he believed Gomez had already fired at police, mistaking the non-lethal rounds fired by Squeo as gunshots.
None of the videos presented reveal Gomez leveling his weapon, according to police.
The fact-finding process takes place when the District Attorney declines to initially file charges against police involved in shootings. A final determination will be made in the coming weeks.
The proceeding comes against a national backdrop of simmering frustration over the deaths of citizens at the hands of police.
Leavitt noted an autopsy revealed Gomez had THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in his system. Cannabis is legal in Nevada.
Leavitt also testified that Gomez had become “increasingly radicalized” according to an unrecorded statement made by his father.
He also displayed text messages and social media posts from Gomez, who wrote leading up to the protest: “Sit back and watch the revolution” and “Be ready for war.”
Leavitt later acknowledged police were unaware of the social media posts or Gomez’ alleged radicalization when they shot him.
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