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July 24, 2014

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Lawsuit raises civil rights allegations against Metro in response to 2011 injury accident

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Steve Marcus

Jamileth Dominguez-Hernandez, 6, poses with her parents, Inocente Dominguez and Maria Hernandez, outside the law offices of Langford McLetchie on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. The family is suing Metro Police for failing to properly investigate when their daughter had her foot injured in an accident in 2011.

Hispanic Family Sues Metro Police

Jamileth Dominguez-Hernandez, 6, poses with her parents, Inocente  Jamilethz Dominguez and Maria Hernandez, outside the law offices of Langford McLetchie on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. The family is suing Metro Police for failing to properly investigate when their daughter had her foot injured in an accident in 2011. Launch slideshow »

A few weeks ago, when 6-year-old Jamileth Dominguez-Hernandez’s brother wanted to get a sticker from the Metro Police officers in their neighborhood, his sister became incensed.

Jamileth told her brother the officers were bad and begged him not to talk to them.

Jamileth is petrified of police after seeing how officers treated her family when she needed help, says her mother, Maria Hernandez, 31.

When Jamileth was 4, a car barreled over her foot as the girl was crossing the street, Hernandez said.

Now the family is suing Metro in federal court, alleging officers not only neglected to do their job when investigating the accident but also became aggressive toward family members because they spoke Spanish.

The complaint alleges the officers became angry and didn’t bring an interpreter, take witness statements, check driving records, file any kind of report or allow those involved to exchange information.

Hernandez has tried to explain to Jamileth that some officers treat people differently and some don’t, but it is a big concept for a small girl who is still reeling from a traumatic day.

According to the complaint, filed late last month in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas:

The events in question started around 6 p.m. July 23, 2011, when Jamileth’s father, Inocente Dominguez, 39, was on his way to his home in the 1800 block of Hassett Avenue. He saw an ice cream truck surrounded by children, so he slowed his car, stopped and then signaled to turn left into his driveway. Jamileth and her sister had just bought ice cream and were waiting to cross back to their home when a Chevrolet Avalanche cut quickly around Dominguez and the ice cream truck.

Dominguez said he didn’t see what happened but heard his daughter’s screams.

When he got out of his car to investigate, a friend was holding Jamileth, her foot drenched in blood. She would need treatment from a burn unit.

The driver of the Avalanche apologized and offered to drive Jamileth to the hospital as long as the family didn’t call the police. A female passenger, however, insisted it was the family’s fault. The Avalanche then drove off, but the driver and passenger eventually walked back to the scene.

Although Dominguez was able to speak through an interpreter when he called dispatch, an interpreter was not sent to the scene with police.

The two Metro Police officers, named in the lawsuit as J. Barker and M. Purcaro, became frustrated that they couldn’t understand Dominguez and just spoke to the driver and passenger of the Avalanche, Dominguez said.

Understanding some English, Dominguez realized the passenger was telling police she was the driver. He also heard some conversation about the driver being underage.

Dominguez tried to correct the passenger, but the officers never checked the driver’s information.

Hernandez, crying and clutching Jamileth in her arms, went to talk to the officers and to show them her daughter’s foot, Hernandez said.

Barker, who did the majority of the talking while Purcaro stood to the side, started yelling at Hernandez that it was her fault.

Barker shouted at Hernandez to shut up and put his forearm across Hernandez’s chest, pushing her with such force that she had to stumble three steps back to avoid falling over with her bleeding daughter wrapped in her arms, Hernandez said.

Scared of the officers, Hernandez went inside and waited for an ambulance to arrive.

The officers didn’t take witness statements, filed no reports and left the family without a way to pursue legal action against anyone involved in the accident, said the family’s attorney, Maggie McLetchie.

Instead, they “mockingly imitated” the accident and then enjoyed free ice cream, according to the complaint.

The driver of the ice cream truck decided not to charge anyone that day, Dominguez said.

A burn-like scar is still visible on Jamileth’s tiny foot.

Hernandez had to take her daughter to the hospital for months to get her foot cleaned and bandaged.

The family originally went to attorney George Trachtman, who handles a lot of personal injury cases. Trachtman said when he started asking the family for basic information, it became apparent police had “robbed” the family of its chance to have its day in court with those involved.

Trachtman said he realized this was more than a simple personal injury suit, so he teamed with McLetchie, who as the former legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada specializes in civil rights cases.

McLetchie said she’d hadn’t seen a case where officers ignored everything they are required to do because of race.

Not only was there no report, but officers didn’t even have everyone fill out driver’s exchange cards, fairly routine procedures, McLetchie said.

The family is asking for a jury trial, unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

Barker has been with Metro since September 2003 and Purcaro has been with Metro since February 2004, said Officer Larry Hadfield, a Metro spokesman.

Asked whether either officer had faced discipline over the incident, Hadfield said it was Metro’s policy not to comment because of the ongoing litigation.

Metro has not yet filed its response to the lawsuit.

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