RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) — Video has surfaced on YouTube showing a fight near the Reno Arch on Saturday night in downtown.
When two Reno police officers arrived, they found between eight and 10 people fighting, Officer Timothy Broadway said Monday.
The officers tried to break up the fight and later told them to quit resisting the officers, Broadway said.
A woman with a baton approached an officer who then responded by tasing the woman, Broadway said.
Once the woman was tased, the fight ended, she was treated at the scene for minor injuries and booked into the Washoe County jail.
Lena Conway, 28, was charged with obstructing and resisting an officer and possession of a dangerous weapon, police said.
Two other people also were charged and booked, Broadway said.
Joshua Aguilar, 26, was charged with obstructing and resisting an officer and passion of a dangerous weapon, police said. Taren Williams, 21, was charged with obstructing and resisting an officer, police said.
The Reno Police Department and Carson City Sheriff’s Office also say they’ve received military vehicles this year through the program, and Sparks Police Department says it is exploring the acquisition of one. All three of those agencies have armored trucks, but say most vehicles are old, nearly inoperable with limited ballistic capabilities. They described the military surplus program as a boon to local policing efforts following recession cuts.
But national and state lawmakers — along with protesters following the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Mo. — are beginning to question whether police need such high-powered war equipment, arguing it blurs the line between military and police.
“There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred,” President Barack Obama told reporters at the White House last week. “That would be contrary to our traditions.”
From high-powered assault rifles to camouflage-clad police officers perched on top of heavily armored vehicles: The violence gripping the Missouri town of Ferguson has highlighted a growing militarization of US law enforcement.
Lyon County’s armored vehicle officially entered its fleet last week and will only be used for SWAT operations, the sheriff’s office says, primarily serving as a high-powered, bullet-proof shield for law enforcement.
Such a vehicle came in handy during events like the Thursday shooting at a Motel 6 in Sparks when Luis Alberto Machado, 34, allegedly fired more than 100 rounds from three weapons; one was an assault rifle, police said.
Machado suffered minor lacerations from broken glass and was transported to Renown Regional Medical Center. No other injuries were reported.
A half-billion dollar business
The armored vehicle Sparks police used in Thursday’s shooting was obtained through a grant, Sparks Deputy Police Chief Brian Miller said, but the department is interested in getting at least one more through the military’s surplus program, also known as the 1033 program under the National Defense Authorization Act. The program dates to the 1990s as a way to help law enforcement in counter-drug activities.
Lyon County’s new armored vehicle became available last year when manufacturer BAE Systems closed its shop in Sealy, Texas after the Department of Defense started looking for different warfighting vehicles, leading to the distribution of nearly 13,000 of the mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, already paid for by taxpayers.
Last week, it become operable for SWAT missions in Lyon County — the rural Nevada area southeast of Reno with about 50,000 residents.
Lyon County sheriff’s Lt. Abel Ortiz, of the SWAT team, lists the acquisition of the MRAP as one of the highest achievements of his policing career — and why not?
Lyon County paid $8,000 in shipping with no cost for the $700,000 vehicle.
“A lot has to do with finances,” Ortiz said. “We have an obligation to the taxpayers to get the best equipment we can get at the best price.”
After four months of modification, radio installation and adding a passenger-side door handle that had been removed before delivery, Lyon County’s MRAP became operable last week, Ortiz said.
“We tried to go through grants to get a BearCat (armored vehicle), specifically for SWAT,” Ortiz said. “The MRAP came up and basically it is everything we need, but for free.”
Spare tires were not part of the deal because that exceeded minimum weight for delivery and increased the price, Ortiz said. For Lyon County, the six-wheeled armored vehicle replaces a 20-year-old hand-me-down armored truck from a Los Angeles security company.
“We get requests on a monthly basis,” said Michael Lambrecht, the state representative for the 1033 Program. “Some agencies are reasonably active; others aren’t.” Agencies usually have a designated point person watching the program’s database as items become available on a first-come, first-serve basis, Lambrecht said.
He said the most active agencies are the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office.
Overall, the program has transferred more than $5 billion in military property to more 8,000 law enforcement agencies “to increase its capabilities, expand its patrol coverage, reduce response times and save American taxpayers’ investment,”according to the program’s website.
Nearly $500 million in military equipment transferred to law enforcement agencies nationwide in 2013, the website says. Since 2012, about $1 million dollars in equipment went to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, including rotor hubs for the RAVEN helicopter program, two SWAT robots and search and rescue sleds.
“The program doesn’t just save money — it saves lives,” Washoe sheriff’s spokesman Bob Harmon said. According to the sheriff’s office, the two OH-58 Kiowa and one HH-1H Huey helicopters performed nearly 3,000 calls for service since 2011, fighting 46 fires.
But lawmakers and state advisory committees are beginning to question the program, saying more oversight is needed.
“The issue is this: Whether we should allow surplus equipment the military has to go to police departments. I say, ‘Yes,'” U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said during a TV interview Tuesday with Sam Shad on “Nevada Newsmakers.” “We have police departments all over the country, including those in Nevada, who are desperate for more resources and the mere fact that you have the equipment doesn’t mean you need to use it.”
He added: “It’s not a question of equipment, it’s what they do with it. It’s obvious that there needs to be more oversight once equipment is given to somebody.”
That billion-dollar transfer business moved two high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, smaller trucks referred to by the acronym HMMWV, and one MRAP to the Carson City Sheriff’s Office in the last year.
“It’s interesting because, while your eyes see what you can construe as militarization, that is not necessarily the case,” Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong said. “You must equip agencies to address issues we must address these days. Law enforcement is facing issues such as heavy-weapon fires and mass shootings.”
Furlong said his office’s anti-mine vehicle hasn’t been operated, yet, and only would for SWAT operations. Meanwhile, Carson City’s two high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles are used for search and rescue efforts, driving through mountainous terrain and large enough to act as a gurney for the injured.
While the turret remains on the MRAP, mechanisms for machine gun fire have been removed and similar modifications are performed on surplus equipment before entering law enforcement operations, Furlong said.
“It is very intimidating so local law enforcement, combined with programs every day, have to take that into consideration,” he said. “If your intention is to intimidate public, agency not doing well to begin with.”
But for some, it’s a slippery slope, and the violence in Ferguson, Mo., serves as anecdotal evidence.
“It seems the program started out to supplement police departments in equipment needs,” said Tod Story, the executive director of the ACLU in Nevada. “What it has turned into is making police departments look like a military force. When you have community policing efforts occurring that resemble U.S. military, this is the wrong way for police departments to interact with the community and the people. It gives the impression that the police department is at war with community rather than working with them to keep them safe.”
Coincidentally, a Nevada advisory committee to the U.S. Commission of Civil Rightsscheduled a meeting months ago to discuss the militarization of police in Las Vegas. That meeting, held Thursday, was attended by Las Vegas and Reno law enforcement, as well as advocates statewide.
Lonnie Feemster, the former president of Reno’s NAACP chapter, attended the meeting.
“This militarization of police has happened under the radar, but because of this civil unrest in Ferguson, now we have this at the front of the news, and they are saying, ‘Wait a minute.’ Is this America or Iraq of Afghanistan? Where in the heck is this happening?” Feemster said.
Bob Fulkerson, state director of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, have scheduled a gathering noon Monday in front of the federal court building in downtown Reno to “continue the conversation” and “state their demands.”
“Ferguson can happen anywhere in this country, including Reno,” Fulkerson said.
Law enforcement echoed Fulkerson’s concerns Ferguson could happen here.
Furlong said he wouldn’t ask deputies to drive a military-styled vehicle past a group of protesters, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want his department getting their hands on some of the equipment.
Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson said it’s a tough line to walk, and the best way to do it is through dialogue with the community.
“Community involvement and decision-making is very important to us,” Robinson said. “But on the other hand, you get all this military equipment, it creates separation. We’re aware of that. But we have found some need for some of the equipment.”
Special events often bring the need for more force, but Robinson said deploying military-styled vehicles during Hot August Nights or Street Vibrations is something they want to avoid.
The closest Reno ever got to a major crowd-control effort in the modern era was in 1998, when about 130 people were arrested during Hot August Nights. When an “estimated 200 hard-core gang members started overturning cars, pulling people out of vehicles, molesting women and starting fights, the police moved in,” the Reno Gazette-Journal wrote in an editorial.
Reno’s police chief at the time, Jerry Hoover, was quoted as saying, “I’m pretty pleased with the tactics used, and I think we were prepared. But there’s more we can do in terms of more equipment and more training.”
Force on force
While the 1998 Hot August Nights riot sparked discussion on crowd control, the shooting death of a Reno police officer in 2001 exposed police vulnerability during residential standoffs.
The Reno Police Department acquired its first armored vehicles following the death of Reno police Officer John Bohach.
Following a traffic stop and officer chase, 50-year-old Larry Peck barricaded himself in his home on Vassar Street and fired at police officers.
One round from a high-powered rifle hit the hood of a parked delivery truck Bohach used as cover while approaching the house from the backyard seconds before SWAT arrived. While officers are told to hide behind the engine block of the vehicle for protection — which Bohach did — the round hit the hood and passed just above the engine block before entering Bohach’s chest, police said.
Bohach was not wearing a protective vest, police said.
Peck, described as a survivalist, continued his standoff with police for five hours.
Reno police used a bank’s armored vehicle, along with one from the Sparks Police Department, to get close to Peck’s home. Those vehicles were rated to stop pistol, not high-powered rifle fire, police said.
Reno police Sgt. Ron Chalmers dragged Bohach to paramedics after the shooting and was awarded the department’s Police Medal of Honor. He said an armored vehicle wouldn’t have saved Bohach’s life that day because his fatal wound happened during the initial moments of the response.
But he said it would have protected police during the hours-long standoff.
Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson, who worked the scene of the Bohach shooting, said police threw body vests on top of the armored vehicles as added protection in order to move close to the home.
“That’s literally how we got Larry Peck out,” Robinson said. “We had a team in the back of the truck and threw smoke in the house — and even that was risky.
“That really became a necessity for us when Bohach died,” Robinson said. “We couldn’t get into (Peck’s) house. We couldn’t get close enough to insert gas because he shot and killed a cop and was going to continue shooting. We were faced with very few options.”
Additionally, Chalmers said the department started looking at tactics on returning fire and evacuating a casualty — both integral to military combat operations and, as Chalmers noted, to police operations in the modern era.
He referred to the Bohach shooting as Reno’s “North Hollywood” shooting, referring to the 1997 incident in Southern California when two men wearing body armor robbed a bank and fired on Los Angeles police with superior rifles.
“It was a significant wake-up call,” Chalmers said of Bohach’s death.
RPD’s military surplus
Reno recently obtained a ballistic and blast-protected carrier designed in 2004 for desert warfare. It is Reno’s first armored vehicle acquired through the military surplus program, Shaw said.
Vehicles given through the program are often “beat up” following military activation, Shaw said. It is currently getting repairs at a local shop that offerered its services to the police department at no charge, he said.
Additionally, Reno has nine assault rifles and 17 night vision binoculars, four currently issued to special units such as SWAT and the gang unit, Shaw said.
But some of the equipment, such as three Kevlar helmets and 24 sets of inoperable night-vision scopes, sit in storage “like an old computer upstairs,” Shaw said.
At least 24 large, mounted night-vision scopes take up an old jail cell at the downtown Reno police station. He wasn’t sure when the department received them, but he did say it was more than a decade ago.
Shaw said they’ve tried to return the scopes, but the Defense Department says it can’t accept them and Reno can’t dispose of them.
Lambrecht said he’s heard of this issue with other agencies concerning the scopes.
“There are small pieces of nuclear parts in them,” he said. “As a result, the Defense Department says it can’t accept them.”
The Department of Defense couldn’t be reached for comment on the scopes.
By the numbers
$700,000 is the cost of a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office got this year. Reno police and Carson City sheriff also received armored vehicles this year.
$8,000 is the price Lyon County paid for the shipping cost — nothing more.
$5 billion is the amount of money in excess military gear the federal government gave to more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States since the program was created in the 1990s.
13 years ago this week, Reno police was exposed during a shooting that forever changed the way the department conducts residential SWAT operations, police said.
$1 million is close the cost of the military gear the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office received through the program since 2012.
3 are the helicopters the sheriff’s office has in its Regional Aviation Enforcement (RAVEN) program; each acquired as military excess items from the federal government.
The Reno City Council will consider Wednesday a possible $330,200 settlement with Deputy Police Chief Dave Evans who went on paid administrative leave in August 2012.
Evans’s yearly salary, including benefits, is more than $170,000 per year, according to the city of Reno’s payroll database.
Evans was put on paid leave after a surreptitiously recorded conversation surfaced that featured the deputy police chief giving advice to Reno Sgt. James Stegmaier on how to maneuver an internal affairs investigation against him.
Stegmaier secretly recorded his conversation with Evans in April 2012 and released it to the media after Stegmaier was forced to retire from the force.
At the time, Stegmaier was under investigation for allegedly pointing his gun at officers at police headquarters. During the conversation, Evans advised Stegmaier to tell investigators about other allegations against his supervising lieutenant.
“She needs to go down,” Evans said in the recorded conversation. “… Keep that in the bag; it’s going to get really ugly.”
A police tribunal recommended Evans be fired based on the recorded conversation. Police Chief Steve Pitts said he was ready to accept that recommendation, but Evans sued to stop his termination.
In March, Washoe County Court Judge Brent Adams threw out the recorded conversation because it violated a city policy that forbids police from surreptitiously recording their peers. The city then appealed the case to the Nevada Supreme Court.
“What Stegmaier was trying to do was extort the department into giving him his job back, he was threatening them by revealing certain things,” Evans’ attorney David Houston said in March. “What Deputy Chief Evans is trying to do is talk him out of doing that because it’s a crime and telling him, ‘If you do this, I have to report this.’”
Houston declined comment Thursday and city of Reno attorney Jack Campbell did not return a phone call.
Stegmaier left the force on July 20, 2012. He filed a federal lawsuit last month against the city saying he experienced sexual harassment in a hostile, offensive work environment and was forced to retire.
The remnants of some of Reno’s thriving casino industry before the popularity of Las Vegas are a continual source of calls for service at the Reno Police Department. The Department stepped up its efforts in a holistic approach to the quality of life issues from drug deals to bed bugs at downtown Reno budget motels..