Shan Davis & Associates And McLetchie Law Join Legal Team Representing the ACLU in Coroner’s Inquest Challenge

On June 20, 2011, three police officers who were involved in the shooting of Benajmin Bowman outside of P.T.’s Pub in November 2010 filed a Writ of Prohibition and Mandamus seeking a court order declaring the newly reformed coroner’s inquest ordinace unconstitutional. In December 2010, following a rash of police involved shootings, the inquest ordinance was revised to make it fair and more transparent. Public outrage swirled after juries found the officers involed in the shootings of Trevon Cole and Erik Scott justified. The real outrage was how the coroner’s inquests proceeded. At that time, the only person who was allowed to question officers and present evidence during the inquest was the District Attorney, who on a daily bais works with police officers to investigate crimes and prosecute alleged offenders. This clearly presents a conflict of interest. The conflict professed itself during the course of the one-sided inquests. The Trevon Cole and Erik Scott inquests were nothing more than character assinations of the deceased. In both cases, the District Attorney’s office spent significant time introducing evidence of prior bad acts, going so far as introducing the testimony of Scott’s neighbor who alleged that Scott once threatened to shoot his dog in March 2010. Essentially, the former inqeust ordinance put the victim on trial, not the officers who caused his death. Also, the victim’s family was not allowed to cross-examine the officers, or to present evidence during the inquest. This virtually guaranteed that all police involved shootings would be found justified, no matter how egregious the officers acted when the shooting occurred.

The ACLU was instrumental in revising the coroner’s inquest ordinance in an effort to make it more transparent. The purpose of the revised inquest ordinance is to ensure fairness and balance to the process. Under the new inquest ordinance, an ombudsman is appointed to represent the family of the deceased during the inquest, and during pre-inquest proceedings, and allows the family of the deceased to access the investigative files before the inquest. These changes are necessary and essential in any fact finding process. The Police Protective Association (PPA) however believes that these changes are unconstitutional, and violate the due process rights of officers involved in shootings. Specifically, the PPA believes that these changes will turn the inquest into an accusative function, rather than a fact finding mission.

The case was originally filed in Clark County’s Eighth Judicial District Court, but was removed to Federal District Court in July 2011. The ACLU filed a motion to intervene as a party, which was opposed by the PPA. The ACLU’s motion will be heard by the Federal District Court in October 2011. Shan Davis & Associates entered the case as co-counsel for the ACLU on September 22, 2011. McLetchie Law is also co-counsel representing the ACLU. Maggie McLetchie, the founder of McLetchie Law, is a former ACLU attorney, and has handled numerous civil rights cases in Nevada’s Federal District Courts. Ms. McLetchie brings a wealth of experience to the legal team representing the ACLU.

You can read the article by the Las Vegas Sun at: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2011/jun/21/police-union-says-changes-coroners-inquest-unconst/.

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