I-Team: Sheriff Joe Lombardo addresses arrest of legal observers at protest

I-Team

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Metro Police report responding to 87 protests over the past three weeks. On Saturday, one particular demonstration stirred controversy after the arrest of legal observers.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo addressed the incident, standing behind the decisions of his officers to arrest the observers and protesters on the Las Vegas Strip Saturday night.

Chris Peterson is one of the at least six legal observers who were taken into custody and cited at the Black Lives Matter protest.

“We are separate from the protest,” explained Peterson. “We do not chant, we do not make political statements. We are there as support, but as legal support.”

Other legal observers, like John Piro and Belinda Harris, posted on social media. Harris said she was thrown to the ground for no reason.

Lombardo released video Tuesday, saying, “There were some very disparaging comments made on the internet, referencing officers throwing a person the ground and being very unprofessional, and I didn’t see that in the video.”

North Las Vegas Police Chief Pamela Ojeda issued a statement regarding the aforementioned claim made against NLV officers, saying:

We take allegations of improper conduct extremely seriously and a thorough investigation showed that our police officers acted professionally and courteously, as we train and our department requires.

The body worn camera footage contradicts all false claims of rough or rude treatment; in fact, it shows our officers treating the woman gently and respectfully. NLVPD looks forward to continuing to partner with the community in ensuring justice, equality and fair treatment for all.”

Pamela Ojeda, Chief of Police, North Las Vegas

The sheriff pointed to additional footage, which he said reveals why the legal observers, seen in red shirts, were taken into custody. Observers were seen between protesters and officers, once by a police vehicle and another time as police formed a line.

“Several of the observers were actively engaged in the protests,” said Lombardo. “These people were antagonizing and obstructing our officers.”

Lombardo pointed to tense moments, from protesters in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard walking through traffic to a man lying down in front of a police car and taunting a motorcycle officer. He said the officer was blocking traffic for the safety of the protesters.

The sheriff also said officers overheard protesters discussing blocking I-15 and gave orders to disperse. But some protesters and legal observers did not immediately leave.

“There is a real danger here, and particularly on Saturday night, when it appeared that the protesters were trying to access I-15 to occupy the freeway,” said Lombardo.

The ACLU responded to the news conference in a Tweet, saying, “Metro’s job right now should be to listen to the community and make meaningful changes to protect Black lives, not to engage in rhetoric using a handful of video clips. It’s time to act on the issues at the heart of these protests. #BlackLivesMatter.”

Lombardo called Metro a leader in policing and transparency. He said at least 15 complaints have been made about officers at protests.

The I-Team asked if Metro should be investigating its own officers in light of the complaints and officer-involved shootings, to which the sheriff responded:

“There isn’t a more comprehensive, more professional, knowledgable, more scientific investigation …. Until you can show me an incident where we have concealed information or purposely skewed the investigation of a police officer, I am confident and happy and very confident that LVMPD should continue to do those investigations. Now, if we are said no by the powers that be, the legislature and/or congress, I am more than happy to cooperate with whoever is chosen to conduct those investigations.”

An attorney for three of the legal observers said they have more video, which tells more of the story. She is planning on releasing it at some point this week.

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