LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A protest on the Las Vegas Strip last night called for an end to police brutality, but things quickly escalated, and legal observers were caught in the chaos.
We are told Saturday night’s protest on the Las Vegas Strip was the first time Metro Police have detained legal observers. They are local attorneys and law students who take notes on what happens during the demonstrations.
Public defender Christopher Peterson volunteers as a legal observer and says he was detained by metro police, during Saturday’s demonstration near the Las Vegas Strip. He told 8 News Now his role is to document what happens and take down the information of protesters who are arrested.
“I’m glad that we were there, making a record of what the police were doing,” Peterson said. “We are not part of the protest. We are separate from the protest.”
They identify themselves by wearing red shirts that say “legal observer.”
But as Saturday’s protest turned tense, Peterson said he was caught in the chaos. He says he used a marked crosswalk when approaching a police line near Russell Road, and officers allowed him to pass through to the sidewalk.
But things escalated, just moments later.
“Two or three officers came up from behind and detained me, taking me back behind the line and held me there,” Peterson said. “I was surprised to be detained at the time I was detained.”
He was released with a citation saying he was “intentionally obstructing the roadway.” the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild says six total legal observers were detained — two of them were taken to CCDC.
Attorney Lisa Rasmussen, who represents some of the detained legal observers, calls Metro’s actions “improper.”
“It’s outrageous for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to be arresting legal observers.” Rasmussen said. “They were all on the sidewalk. So, they weren’t obstructing the roadway, they weren’t doing anything illegal.”
Governor Sisolak also released a statement Sunday afternoon, saying:
Legal observers provide a valuable service as part of our system of justice by informing protesters about how to lawfully express their rights and answering questions about what conduct is lawful.
Any reports of police action against legal observers should be fully investigated and reviewed so a full understanding of what happened can be determined.
That information should be used to develop long-term solution to avoid a similar re-occurrence in the future.Governor Steve Sisolak
Though everyone has been released, the legal process is not over yet, and Peterson is prepared.
“We are looking forward to our day in court,” Peterson concluded.
8 News Now reached out to Metro Police for a statement about what happened Saturday night, but they have not gotten back to us yet.
The ACLU of Nevada also released a statement regarding the protests. That can be found below:
“The protests happening all over the country are an outpouring of rage and grief at the endless, relentless examples of unarmed Black people being brutalized and murdered at the hands of police. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks are just the latest deaths in a long history. These are just recent examples of police violence; dozens of people are killed by police each year in our community.
“The ACLU of Nevada is united in solidarity with protesters across the country demanding an end to violent, racist policing. It is outrageous that protests demanding justice for police brutality are being met with police brutality. Here in Las Vegas, instead of de-escalating tense situations, police are shooting pepper balls indiscriminately into peaceful crowds and using chemical weapons such as tear gas to disperse protesters. On June 1, a protester was fatally shot by police and the officers weren’t wearing body cameras. These aggressive tactics are shameful and dangerously escalate these situations, putting protesters, journalists, bystanders, and the police themselves at great risk of injury and death. It is also irresponsible to use chemical irritants that affect the respiratory system and cause fits of coughing during a highly contagious and lethal pandemic.
“Metro police have arrested peaceful protesters, neutral legal observers, and journalists. They give arbitrary and random orders to disperse, allowing crowds only minutes to comply before police start to detain demonstrators. We are alarmed at the continued militarization of Las Vegas police. Peaceful protesters at several events have encountered armored vehicles and officers in military gear and have also been subjected to surveillance. The responsibility for ensuring protests remain peaceful does not belong to demonstrators alone; it belongs to the police as well.
“Pepper balls, gas, and arrests should not be taken lightly when used against protestors exercising their First Amendment rights. What we have seen over the past weeks is officers using these tactics as a quick way to wrap up when they decide the protests should end. It is troubling to watch officers take such an inhumane approach against those they have sworn to protect. We at the ACLU of Nevada will not stand idly by while the civil rights of these protesters continue to be violated.
“Now is the time for action and accountability. We call on our community members to share their stories and videos of police interactions at recent protests with the ACLU of Nevada at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are committed to working with lawmakers and stakeholders from all communities, in every corner of our state, to create and reform systems and policies that tear down the systemic and structural racism that is tearing our country apart.”ACLU of Nevada Legal Director Sherrie Royster