LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Sheriff Joe Lombardo calls the Metro Police Department transparent, but questions are being raised about its handling of body camera video.
WARNING: Some of the content in this report is of a sensitive nature.
An instance that Lombardo insisted the department is transparent with this video was on June 16.
“You have the ability to request that, public information,” he said.
But one week later, Metro refused to provide the I-Team body camera video we requested.
“Why are you hiding the tapes? That’s not transparency,” said Las Vegan Jeffery Thompkins, “That’s the exact opposite of transparency.”
Thompkins says Byron Williams was like a dad to him. Williams died on September 5, 2019 after telling police he couldn’t breathe at least 17 times.
His death was ruled a homicide. The Clark County Coroner also said he had meth in his system and other health conditions.
According to Metro, officers initially tried to stop Williams for not having a bicycle light.
Five days after the incident, Metro held a press conference. Now retired Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank noted Williams’ lengthy criminal history and his failure to comply with electronic monitoring, which officers at the scene weren’t aware of at the time.
Metro also released video, but Hank acknowledged officers turned their body cameras off and then eventually, back on.
Thompkins says the department showed his family a total of seven body camera videos but would not give them a copy, which is what the I-Team requested.
“Officers know that there’s the video, so if the officer has a poor action associated with the event, we’re gonna show you,” said Lombardo. “We’re not picking and choosing.”
But the response? Your request is denied because of an active criminal or internal affairs investigation. The video is considered evidence.
The I-Team asked Thompkins if Metro needs to change their body camera policy, in terms of the public having access to the video. He replied: “absolutely.”
We spoke with Assemblyman Tom Roberts about what he can do as a legislator.
“I think government has spent a lot of money for the purchase of body cameras,” said Roberts. “I know Metro’s program is pretty expensive, and the purpose of that is to be transparent and to be able to release body camera footage to the public.”
In addition to serving as a state assemblyman, Roberts spent more than 24 years at Metro, retiring as an assistant sheriff.
“If the intent of the body camera was to be transparent and open, and those of you in the media and the public don’t believe that that’s the case, then we need to make improvements,” he said.
The Clark County District Attorney’s Office announced no criminal prosecution of these officers in March and called for the scheduling of a public fact-finding review, which has not yet taken place.
According to Metro, Officers Patrick Campbell and Benjamin Vazquez are currently employed.
A final note, that additional footage paid for by taxpayers is marked “law enforcement privilege.”
For body camera video Metro will release, the department is currently charging $197/hour of footage.
For the I-Team’s previous story on the death of Byron Williams, click here.