LAS VEGAS (AP) — A grand jury in Las Vegas decided not to indict a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed, disabled Gulf War veteran in his car a little more than a year ago, officials said Thursday.
The decision in the controversial slaying of Stanley LaVon Gibson was hailed by the head of the police union representing Officer Jesus Arevalo as proof there was no criminal action or intent on Arevalo's part.
"We are obviously pleased with the grand jury's decision," said Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association. "The process worked and brought back the appropriate conclusion."
But a lawyer for Gibson's widow, Rondha Gibson, said he believed Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson only took the case to the grand jury as a step toward clearing the officer.
"This was a political decision to take it to the grand jury on a legal issue and then call it justice," attorney Cal Potter said. "It certainly is not justice in the eyes of a community looking for justice and only getting lip service."
Wolfson declined to comment, citing state law prohibiting the disclosure of closed-door grand jury proceedings. Wolfson was appointed district attorney just weeks after Gibson's death, and has issued opinions clearing officers in a backlog of 20 officer-involved fatalities awaiting coroner's inquest review.
Potter filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas earlier this month on behalf of Rondha Gibson. He said he'll ask U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden to prosecute Arevalo criminally.
Gibson's mother filed a separate federal lawsuit last May, alleging multiple constitutional rights violations by Arevalo, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and two police supervisors.
Gibson, 43, was shot and killed early Dec. 12, 2011, after an hour-long standoff in the parking lot of a northwest Las Vegas apartment complex. Police had planned to apprehend him by firing a beanbag shotgun round to break a window of his Cadillac and then use pepper spray. Officials said the plan went awry when Arevalo heard the shotgun blast and opened fire with a police assault rifle.
Gibson's brother told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he believes there's a lack of accountability for police involved in fatal encounters.
"It's OK to continue to execute people in this town as long as you wear a badge," he said.
Friends and family characterized Gibson as a troubled veteran suffering from cancer, post-traumatic stress and anxiety that he blamed on his Army service. Witnesses said he appeared to be lost, driving slowly late at night through an unfamiliar apartment complex with the emergency flashers of his car activated.
Police summoned to a call about two men trying to break into an apartment stopped him.
Gibson refused to get out of his car, which officers pinned front and back with two patrol cruisers. Several times, Gibson spun the tires of his vehicle, producing a roar with the engine and a cloud of acrid blue smoke that wafted into nearby apartments.
Gibson became the 12th person killed in 2011 by Las Vegas police. His case spurred calls from the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People officials in Las Vegas for a federal investigation of Las Vegas police use-of-force practices.
The slaying also highlighted the absence of scrutiny of officer-involved deaths. Clark County coroner's inquests were used for decades as a fact-finding process, but the process was suspended after August 2010 when police officers sued in state and federal courts to block the implementation of revisions to the process. The process remains stalled.
Last month, officials with the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program released a report saying the department failed to meet current best practices but had begun implementing 75 "organizational transformation" recommendations aimed at cutting down on the number of people shot and killed.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com