Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks announced Monday the Sparks Police Department officers who fatally shot Black 18-year-old Miciah Lee would not face criminal charges.
“Mr. Lee’s death was a tragic end to a young man’s life and this community should be saddened by it,” Hicks said in a statement. “My decision in this case is based on the law in Nevada and upon a thorough review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident and the actions of the officers involved in the shooting.”
Sparks police also released body camera footage from the shooting the same day the investigation was published, including a compilation of scenes from the event and longer segments from the two officers who fired their weapons.
Terri Keyser-Cooper, an attorney representing Lee’s family, rejected the decision.
“In more than 35 years of civil rights litigation I have never seen the police held accountable for officer-involved shootings,” she told CapRadio in a text message. “The civil rights complaint will follow within the next two to three weeks.”
The fatal shooting of Lee, who also had a history of mental illness, became a rallying cry during local Black Lives Matter protests and the local NAACP chapter called for greater transparency in the case.
Lee’s mother, Susan Clopp, initially called police because her son was having a mental health crisis. “He’s mentally unstable,” she told a 911 dispatcher. “He said he’s going to die by cop or by himself.”
According to the report Lee fled from police in his car, which was eventually disabled during the pursuit when he ran over a concrete divider in the road. When Sparks Police Officer Ryan Patterson tried to pull him out with the help of a police canine, he saw a handgun in Lee’s lap. Patterson opened fire because he said Lee reached for the weapon.
Officer Eric DeJesus also engaged in the pursuit. He approached Lee’s car from the passenger side, then fired two rounds through the window when Officer Patterson started firing. Lee was pronounced dead at the scene and according to the DA’s report, police later discovered his handgun was unloaded.
Lily Baran is a community organizer and elementary school teacher. She’s been advocating for Lee’s family.
Baran watched the footage released by Sparks police. She believes if the officers responding to the call had used de-escalation techniques, Lee might still be alive.
“It wasn’t de-escalated, it was escalated,” she said.
As a teacher, Baran says she has a lot of students who have mental health and behavioral challenges. One key element in responding to a crisis, she says, is addressing the person by their name and speaking calmly.
“All of us know that,” she said. “Every therapist knows that, every social worker.”
In the past, it has taken up to two years to investigate shootings by police officers in Washoe County. But the decision in the Lee case was announced more quickly than most.
Washoe County DA spokesperson Michelle Bays says the office aims to complete every review of a police shooting within 60 days, although that doesn’t always happen.
Since protesters took to the streets against the police killings of two unarmed African Americans, Breonna Taylor George Floyd, public support for the Black Lives Matter movement has been growing.
Adrienne Feemster, who is an organizer with the local Black Lives Matter group and a member of the NAACP, believes video of the event should have come out sooner.
“It took too long — and this is even considering it normally takes much longer than that,” she said. “Bodycam footage should be released within seven days, tops.”
Feemster also believes Nevada needs a statewide policy to set a standard deadline for disclosure of video and other relevant evidence from officer-involved-shootings.
Washoe County law enforcement agencies say they typically withhold body camera footage of use of force incidents until after the investigation, to avoid tainting the case later on.
Patrick File, president of the Nevada Open Government Coalition, supports publishing footage sooner. He says recent protests against police violence are prompting leaders and law enforcement to review their policies around public information.
“Elected officials and law enforcement are listening to the community as much as they ever have right now in terms of what people need and what folks are demanding in terms of accountability and police transparency,” he said. “So there really is an opportunity right now.”
Clarification: This story’s reporting on the Washoe County DA’s office has been updated to better reflect the office’s process for reviewing police-shooting investigations.
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