LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — They are volunteers who sometimes get a call in the middle of the night to go to the scene of police activity.
They describe what it takes to be on the Use of Force Board for Metro police: time, dedication and fairness.
Police might have one perspective on force being used, and these citizens are meant to be representatives of the community — outsiders who weigh in.
“I was struck by … I heard that there was … that they had never had an officer-involved shooting that was ruled inappropriate or wrong,” said Donavin Britt, one of those volunteers. “And I said, ‘How can that be? There’s no way that … 100 percent … No.”
That was during the days of the coroner’s inquest, viewed by many as one-sided hearings about use of force incidents at the hands of officers.
Critics said it let officers off the hook and the Clark County Commission heard from community members like Rondha Gibson.
In 2011, Gibson’s husband, Stanley, an unarmed war veteran, was shot and killed by Metro police.
“I don’t want my husband’s death to be in vain,” Rondha Gibson says.
In 2013, six members of a Use of Force Board resigned. The board was created in the ’90s to review use of force incidents .
Then-Sheriff Doug Gillespie went against board recommendations. He refused to fire an officer who shot an unarmed man.
The board found the officer had mistaken the sight of a shiny sticker on a hat for the metal of a gun.
“As sheriff, I have the last say in these matters internally,” Gillespie said.
That same year, the commission ruled to end the inquest.
Now, in addition to a public fact-finding review where information is publically released, the Use of Force Board holds more weight to decide whether an incident is justified.
One recent example — After the in-custody death of Byron Williams in 2019, an unarmed Black man, the Use of Force Board identified problems with how officers handled Williams and what followed at the scene.
Metro then made policy changes.
The board includes three commissioned officers and four citizens from a pool of 20. Current members Donavin Britt, David Skelton and Richard Metzler were part of that pool.
“I would say the majority of our cases that I’ve served on this year haven’t even haven’t involved the use of a gun,” Metzler says. “It’s been other issues where the person died. Going hands-on.”
“What’s important to myself and probably every member of the board is transparency. It’s what we look for,” Skelton says.
Britt sees a clear role for citizen board members.
“There has to be someone on that bridge that people can trust and say, ‘Look, no, I was in that room, this is what I saw, I was on the scene, I spoke to the chief, we spoke as a group together. And I’m telling you, this is how this case went,’ ” he says.
“Now, the same time, there also has to be that notion that we can be critical and supportive at the same time,” Britt says.
NEXT: A closer look at the Byron Williams case and the number of Use of Force incidents
State of Metro:
In a five-day series, 8NewsNow looks at reform in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and the questions raised by Black Lives Matter protests.
Nov. 16: (overview): I-Team: Metro police face-to-face with racial tensions in Las Vegas
Nov. 16: I-Team: Examining how Metro stacks up when it comes to police reform policy changes
Nov. 16: State of Metro: By the numbers
Nov. 17: I-Team: Black police officers are in the middle as protests flare, challenges grow
Nov. 17: I-Team: Black police officers set national example for community service
Nov. 18: I-Team: Use of Force Board gives citizens an inside voice in Las Vegas police matters
Nov. 18: I-Team: 2019 death of Byron Williams brings attention to Metro policies on use of force
Nov. 19: I-Team: ‘We don’t use any virtual reality,’ Metro trains using real-life scenarios
Nov. 19: I-Team: Police hiring is crucial to building a force Las Vegas can trust
Nov. 20: I-Team: ‘There’s nobody that dislikes a bad cop more than a cop,’ sheriff says
Nov. 20: Deaths in police interactions, 2013-2020 — MAP
Nov. 20: I-Team: Metro reaction to police protests mirrors progress, willingness to change