Published Friday, March 1, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Updated Friday, March 1, 2013 | 6:25 a.m.
- Police had contacts with troubled veteran before deadly shooting (2-28-2013)
- Family of slain veteran still wants to see someone held accountable (2-24-2013)
- How we got here: The drama and legal challenges that led to police fatality reviews
- Grand jury refuses to indict cop who killed unarmed veteran (Dec. 19, 2012)
- Commission shelves coroner’s inquests for new ‘police fatality review process’ (Jan. 7, 2013)
- Source: Metro blames police radio for officer firing on unarmed veteran (Nov. 9, 2012)
A hasty plan change, which lacked proper communication, contributed to the officer-involved shooting death of Gulf War veteran Stanley Gibson in 2011.
Inadequate leadership and a faulty police radio system were also among factors identified Thursday during the county’s first Police Fatality Public Factfinding Review, a new iteration of the controversial coroner’s inquests into fatal police shootings.
The 43-year-old Gibson, who was unarmed, died in the early-morning hours of Dec. 12, 2011. He suffered four gunshot wounds after Metro Police officer Jesus Arevalo fired seven rounds from a rifle at Gibson’s white Cadillac.
Toward the end of the five-hour review, ombudsman Tony Sgro asked the first witness, Metro detective Clifford Mogg, a question driving to the heart of the hearing:
“Was Stanley Gibson shot because of a mistake?”
Mogg, the lead investigator of the incident and one of two witnesses called Thursday, said Arevalo fired based on a perceived threat.
But that perceived threat was the result of a plan gone awry. During his lengthy testimony — set up as more of a presentation with some questioning — Mogg explained that Lt. David Dockendorf had altered a plan to approach Gibson without alerting all officers involved.
The deadly incident unfolded in the early-morning hours of Dec. 12 at the Alondra Condominiums, 2451 N. Rainbow Blvd., after reports of an attempted burglary.
When the suspect vehicle described to police — a white Cadillac — showed back up at the complex, officers blocked it in and realized it belonged to Gibson.
Gibson, a sufferer of anxiety and depression, had been on police radar after bizarre behavior the previous two days landed him brief stints in the city jail and hospital.
But Mogg said officers arriving at the scene had no information about Gibson’s recent contact with police.
Gibson refused commands to exit his vehicle, then rammed a patrol car and periodically revved the engine and spun the tires, Mogg said.
The situation prompted a sergeant on scene to devise a plan to shoot a nonlethal bean-bag round into the Cadillac and then disperse pepper spray to force Gibson out, Mogg said.
The plan, however, was stalled and Dockendorf took command of the scene.
Meanwhile, Arevalo — one of five team members briefed on the original positioning — had asked to change positions, Mogg said. He switched to a spot about 29 feet from the Cadillac, facing the passenger side of the vehicle.
At one point, Dockendorf broadcast the following statement over the radio: “All right, units, we’re moving in. Shoot.”
Dockendorf hadn’t meant for the word “shoot” to be broadcast.
No one heard the phrase — a foreshadowing of radio issues — but nonetheless, Mogg called the mistake “pretty serious” based on its potential outcome.
A short time later, Mogg said Dockendorf decided to implement a modified version of the original plan by approaching from a different angle.
Dockendorf said he made “eye contact” with the officer in charge of firing the bean-bag round into the vehicle, but he did not communicate the repositioning with any other officers. Arevalo, now on the opposite side of Gibson’s vehicle, was not aware of the change, Mogg said.
When the bean-bag round hit the vehicle window, Arevalo mistakenly thought he was being shot at and returned fire. He fired seven shots from his .223-caliber rifle into the Cadillac, killing Gibson.
In his nearly 80-page, single-spaced report, Mogg said he concluded that Gibson, who only recently moved to the apartment complex just north of the Alondra Condiminiums, had become confused and ended up in that location.
Mogg also said both tactical plans that evening included possible department policy violations.
Michael Barnbeck, director of Metro’s radio systems bureau, said flaws in the radio system contributed to confusion that night.
Barnbeck said the radio system was not allowing some officers to “push to talk,” a situation he labeled as “unacceptable.”
In addition, radio transmissions tended to be garbled that night, Barnbeck said.
Since then, the department has made some improvements to the Desert Sky Radio System but not enough to feel satisfied, Barnbeck said. Metro is in the process of purchasing a system to partially replace the current one.
“It did not perform to the standards of public safety” on Dec. 12, 2011, Barnbeck said.
In December, a grand jury declined to indict Arevalo on any criminal charges related to the shooting.
Metro spokesman Marcus Martin said Arevalo remains on paid administrative leave from the department. Dockendorf is back to normal duties, he said.
The five-hour informational hearing left the victim’s brother, Rudy Gibson, partially satisfied.
“I got some answers — not all of them,” he said. “I do have a little better understanding of what happened that night.”
Even so, several details revealed disturbed the family, including an interview of Dockendorf after the incident. Dockendorf can be heard laughing on the audio recording.
Mogg called the laughter unusual but chalked it up to nerves. It didn’t sit well with the Gibson family.
“To hear that lieutenant joking and laughing in that interview shows his disregard,” Rudy Gibson said.
The family’s attorney, Andre Lagomarsino, said the information provided made it clear “incompetence and a lack of training” played a role in the death of Gibson.
Now that the review is over, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said the “jury is out” for public opinion.
“A lot of things came out that I wasn’t aware of before today’s hearing, and that’s a positive,” Sisolak said.