Tag Archives: Nevada Supreme Court

Talking to People Being Extorted/Harassed by Police No Longer Arrestable Offense in Las Vegas

Until yesterday one of the things we always had to caution people about while filming the cops here in Las Vegas was that they shouldn’t talk to the person who has been stopped. The natural inclination when you see the police violating someone’s rights and/or them surrendering those rights because they aren’t aware of them is to make them aware that they don’t have to consent to a search, answer questions, provide ID when not detained, etc.

However, there was a law on the books that stated speaking to police or the person they are potentially trying to kidnap constitutes impeding an investigation and therefore is a misdemeanor crime. Cops who are already not fans of being filmed and oftentimes looking for an excuse to harass or otherwise retaliate against people doing so, have been known to use this as a pretense to arrest Cop Blockers in the past.

However, that’s no longer one of the LVMPD‘s options for a throwaway “contempt of cop” charge. The Nevada Supreme Court in December ruled a similar statute up north in Carson City unconstitutional because it was “overbroad and to vague,” and therefore could be used to arrest pretty much anyone that speaks to a cop while they are performing other duties. As a result, the Las Vegas City Council repealed the Las Vegas version of that law.

Via the Las Vegas Review Journal:

The 5-2 decision comes off an appeal in the case of William Allen Scott, who was arrested in February 2014 in Carson City.

Scott was a passenger in a car that was pulled over after a sheriff’s deputy said it ran a stop sign, court records show. The deputy said he smelled alcohol and tried to administer a field sobriety test on the driver.

But Scott interrupted the deputy several times, telling his friend that he didn’t need to do what the deputy said. Scott was arrested, charged and eventually convicted of hindering a sheriff deputy’s duties for his outbursts.

The court said the law Scott was convicted of “criminalizes speech that is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” according to court records.

In its decision, the court said the Carson City ordinance gave deputies too much discretion in enforcing the law. The opinion gave an extreme hypothetical example, saying the law allowed deputies who were directing traffic to arrest a pedestrian who simply asked them for directions.

It noted two state laws cover interfering with or resisting a public officer, but don’t allow for the same speech restriction.

Of course, in all likelihood they’ll all just get together and come up with a newer, better written version of the law that allows them to get around the Supreme Court’s ruling and for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to get back to retaliating against people they don’t like or those who are engaging in legal activities they disagree with in no time.

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Nevada Court Upholds Firing of North Las Vegas Cop for Covering Up Brother’s Crime

On June 25th, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned a decision by a lower court that would have reinstated a North Las Vegas police officer. That officer, Lazario Ruiz, was fired after he failed to report and then lied about an incident in which his brother argued with and then stole jewelry from another man. Officer Ruiz was present during the confrontation, which involved a brother-in-law, but also made no effort to intervene or prevent the crime.

Police are legally required to report any crimes they witness. Police department policies also generally require officers to stop and/or apprehend anyone they see committing a crime. There are some “discretionary” exceptions, but that would hardly be appropriate when a family member is involved in something that is clearly a criminal act. (There is quite obviously a victim here.)

According to the Las Vegas Sun:

The court overturned the decision of District Judge Valorie Vega who had ruled the procedure was faulty in dismissing Ruiz for untruthfulness and unprofessional conduct.

North Las Vegas Police BadgeRuiz was present when his brother Tony confronted Oscar Talamantes, a brother-in-law, over money in August 2009. After the argument, Tony Ruiz ripped two gold chains off the neck of Talamantes and fled. Talamantes reported a robbery to police.

North Las Vegas officials maintained that Officer Ruiz was within 2 feet of the incident, never made a police report or made any effort to stop his brother. He maintained he did not see the encounter.

During the investigation, Ruiz gave four statements that the city said were untruthful.

An arbitrator admitted the four statements in his review of the case and ruled the dismissal was proper.

Judge Vega held that the four statements of Ruiz violated the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights and ruled in favor of the officer to return to his job.

The court ruled that there was substantial evidence to back the decision of the arbitrator and taht (sic) Judge Vega abused her discretion in ruling in favor of Ruiz.

So, Judge Vega’s ruling aside, that’s a rare bit of accountability for the Las Vegas area police departments. To be fair, even the LVMPD has somewhat of a track record of firing cops involved in financial crimes. It’s just that killing people thing they don’t seem to be too concerned about.

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Reliance on Traffic Ticket Revenue Has Left Nevada Supreme Court Broke

Back in March, Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty warned state legislators that the NV Supreme Court coffers were bare, due to a drop in revenue from traffic tickets. A decrease in the amount of tickets being issued by law enforcement state-wide had left the courts $700k over budget this year and facing another $700k shortage next year, for a $1.4 million total shortfall. In Nevada and other states, the state supreme court is funded by assessment fees added onto the fines for traffic citations.

Hardesty made sure lawmakers knew he wasn’t fooling around with an ominous threat to take everyone’s ball and go home if they didn’t find some way for taxpayers to pay up:

NV Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty

Justice James Hardesty

“If this is not addressed by May 1, the court will not have sufficient cash to operate,” Hardesty said in his testimony to lawmakers, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. “I believe the legislature has a constitutional obligation to fund the judicial branch of government. Do you want me to close the judicial branch of government at the state level on May 1?”

As you’ve probably noticed, it’s past May 1st and Nevada still has a functioning Supreme Court. That’s because the state legislature passed NV SB469, which provided $600k in “emergency” funds to hold them over for a little while longer. There are, of course, larger issues beyond an unpredictable budget that are created by the propensity for government agencies and courts to use traffic and other citations as a revenue generation source.

NV Courts Revenue GenerationThe first and most obvious being that it creates a perverse incentive for lawmakers to pass laws based solely for that purpose and for police to enforce laws based on that priority. The reliance on drug seizure funds for local police departments, the huge growth in the War on (Some) Drugs, and the resulting human rights violations that have resulted are well documented at this point.

The less apparent and visible result involves the continued erosion of the premise that cops are here to “protect and serve.” Hardesty himself states that the budget crunch is a result of a change in priorities by police across the state. The Las Vegas Review Journal takes it a step further stating:

“the number of tickets written by law enforcement agencies around the state has been declining steadily, partly because state troopers have focused on violations more likely to lead to crashes…

Part of the reason, police said, is the NHP Strategic Plan’s emphasis on violations that could cause crashes, including distracted driving and driving under the influence. Police also believe enforcement and the Zero Fatalities education program have changed drivers’ behavior, while completion of some major highway projects has made traffic move better.”

When an emphasis on safety over revenue generation and a perceived improvement in driver’s behavior and road conditions is seen as a problem, then that’s actually a problem. Further, when the general population’s interaction with the police and courts trends increasingly toward negative and unnecessary harassment, it doesn’t help the already battered reputations of departments, such as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

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Recently, the entire Las Vegas Constable’s Office was dissolved with one of the bigger reasons behind that being the corruption caused by tying revenue to citations. The biggest scheme consisted of an assessment fee attached to tickets issued to people that didn’t change their car registration within 30 days of moving from another state. A 2012 modification in that law increasing the amount of fines and decreasing the amount of time allowed to change registration, which was itself passed explicitly to increase revenue, also allowed constables to collect a commission on the assessment fee.

The fact that those ticketed had to pay the assessment fee even if they were actually within the allotted 30 days, led to constables spending the majority of their days trolling through parking lots and apartment complexes looking for anyone with an out of state license plate. As you might imagine, it didn’t exactly endear them to new residents or others within the community. Nor did the unauthorized traffic stops that they began making to bring in even more cash.

Revenue Generation Through CitationsAs already noted in a previous post, the Las Vegas Municipal Courts also recently came under fire for their “money hungry” ways. Among those criticisms was that the courts were putting revenue generation before safety by allowing people that were actually a threat and prone to violence to pay fees rather than go to jail. They also were accused of charging excessive fees to non-violent offenders with financial difficulties in order to keep them paying over long periods of time. (See the video below for an illustration of the loan-shark style scam that traffic tickets now represent.)

Not surprisingly, when you make the funding of government dependent on harassing and stealing from the citizens what you end up with is a government whose main function is to find new and worse ways to harass and steal from those citizens. The equally unsurprising aftereffect is to create a citizenry that sees government as nothing, but a den of thieves. When positive behavior is seen as a bad thing because it makes funding that government more difficult, then that assessment of them is pretty valid.

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