by William N. Grigg, Pro Libertate
“He made me do my job,” insisted Bryan Yant when asked to explain why he gunned down 21-year-old Las Vegas resident Trevon Cole last June in what was clearly an act of criminal homicide.
Yant, who is employed by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police as an undercover counter-narcotics detective, claimed that Cole — who was accused of selling 1.8 ounces of marijuana — “made an aggressive act toward me,” which was “enough to make me fear for my life.”
Cole’s finance, Sequoia Pearce, offers a much different story. She maintains that Cole was cooperative, putting up his hands and saying “All right — all right” in the instant before Yant fatally shot him. At the time, Pearce — who was nine months pregnant with the couple’s child — was kneeling on the floor with a gun to her head.
Of the six-member narcotics squad involved in the late evening raid on the tiny one-bedroom apartment, Yant was the only one who claimed that Cole made a “furtive movement.” Interestingly, he was also the only one carrying an assault rifle.
On three separate occasions in the weeks leading up to the June 11 raid, police “arranged to meet with Trevon in the parking lot of his apartment complex” to conduct drug buys, attorney Andre Lagomarsino told Pro Libertate. “Trevon was never armed or dangerous, and he wasn’t exactly a high-rolling dealer either, given the fact that he didn’t even have a car.”
In the hours leading up to the raid, “the police had the apartment under surveillance, and they knew that there was a pregnant woman in that room,” continues Lagomarsino. “They had already established that this guy wasn’t a threat. They had probable cause to arrest Trevon; why didn’t they simply arrange to meet him in the parking lot and cuff him, and then execute a search?”
Although the police — with the help of a camera crew from Langley Productions, which produces the execrable COPS “reality TV” series — had captured Trevon Cole selling marijuana on video, the affidavit Yant filed to obtain an arrest warrant was fatally flawed. (Remember the COPS connection; we’ll return to it anon.)
|Trevon and Sequoia in happier times.
Yant misidentified the Las Vegas resident as another individual — a Houston resident with a lengthy criminal record. The two men — who had different birthdays and middle names — looked nothing like each other. Trevon, a former college football player, was roughly 100 pounds heavier and three inches taller than the individual described in the affidavit.
It’s impossible to dismiss Yant’s misrepresentation as an innocent mistake. He had all the necessary information from Cole’s California driver’s license. Rather than correctly describing the subject as a young man with no prior criminal record, Yant depicted him as a dangerous repeat offender. This, in turn, prompted a judge to approve Yant’s request for an armed, night-time raid on Cole’s apartment. Res ipsa loquitir
When the cops invaded Cole’s apartment, the lights were out and a television offered the only illumination. In defiance of protocol, Yant — acting without backup — kicked in the bathroom door. He found Cole squatting in front of the toilet, apparently trying to dispose of a minuscule amount of marijuana.
According to the story Yant told the inquest, Cole “turned towards me, rotated his body,” and assumed a shooter’s stance. The detective was supposedly able to see all of this despite the fact that it was dark and the barrel-mounted flashlight on his rifle wasn’t working.
That account can’t be reconciled with the findings of Dr. Lisa Gavin, a medical examiner with the Clark County Coroner’s Office, who said that the physical evidence shows Cole was facing away from Yant when he was fatally shot. The bullet that killed Cole followed a downward trajectory through his cheek into his neck.
During the inquest, Assistant District Attorney Chris Owens suggested that this was “consistent” with an accidental discharge of Yant’s rifle as he kicked in the door. However, Pearce insists that Cole had sufficient time to raise his hands and signal his compliance before Yant gunned him down. Her account actually confirms Yant’s testimony that the gunshot was a deliberate act, not an accidental discharge.
When coupled with forensic evidence indicating that Cole was shot from behind, this looks suspiciously like an execution-style murder — or at the very least, something that should be prosecuted as an act of criminal homicide. Thanks to a system designed to validate questionable use of lethal force by police, Yant may conceivably lose his job, but he won’t be put on trial.
Lagomarsino, who is preparing a lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metro Police on behalf of Cole’s family and former fiance, describes the County Coroner Inquest procedure as “a kangaroo court and a dog and pony show.” That is also the view of Don Chairez, a former Nevada District Court Judge who is a current candidate to be Clark County District Attorney. Chairez, who describes the typical inquest as “a search forjustification of an officer’s actions.”
|Inquest critic: DA candidate Chairez.
Lagomarsino observes that no cross-examination of police officers is permitted. “We were allowed to submit written questions, one at a time, to the prosecutor, but we couldn’t cross-examine Yant” or even ask follow-up questions, he told Pro Libertate. The prosecutors don’t bother to present a summation for the jury, and established procedures also permit judges to offer what Lagomarsino called “very vague” instructions to the jury.
Additionally, jury nullification would avail little in this setting, since the inquest — unlike a grand jury — cannot return an indictment. At the end of the inquest into the Trevon Cole shooting, comments Don Chairez, it appeared that the judge “was almost asking for a directed verdict.”
This wasn’t the first time a coroner’s inquest has rescued Bryan Yant. In 2002, Yant, at the time a 25-year-old street officer, shot robbery suspect Richard Travis Brown following a foot pursuit. Yant claimed that he had returned fire after Brown shot at him during the chase. Eventually Brown “buckled and fell face-first on the ground,” Yant told the inquest. Sprawled on the ground with a “wild-eyed look,” Brown supposedly pointed his gun at the officer, who unloaded the volley that killed him.
Brown was being pursued as a suspect in a violent crime. But he shouldn’t have been summarily executed — which is what apparently happened to him, given that the gun he supposedly pointed at Yant was found 35 feet from the spot where the officer shot him to death. This oddity didn’t prevent the inquest from quickly validating Yant’s actions as “justifiable.”
Yant’s “error” in describing an entirely different person in his arrest affidavit for Trevon Cole was hardly his first “mistake” of that kind. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal
, Yant “is under investigation for apparently lying about drugs he didn’t seize and actions he didn’t take during a 2009 police raid that never happened.”
More than a year before compiling an arrest affidavit that contained “gross misstatements about Cole’s criminal history,” Yant and fellow Officer David Goris falsely reported that “they sat in a car [and observed] … while a confidential informant bought drugs from a man they identified as William Sigler,” reports the Review Journal. “That alleged buy was used to justify a nighttime search of Sigler’s home 12 days later. Police arrested Sigler and his girlfriend and seized prescription drugs, marijuana and cocaine from the home.”
However, the charges were thrown out last week when it was established that “the informant did not buy drugs from Sigler.” At the time the “controlled buy” purportedly took place, Sigler was in the Bahamas.
During the January 2009 raid on Sigler’s residence, “Yant tore up and left three documents … [describing] a different raid of Sigler’s home, one that never took place,” continues the paper. A “declaration of arrest” form claimed that police had detained suspects and collected evidence at Sigler’s home in a December 2009 raid. “Evidence” supposedly collected in that fictitious raid supposedly tested positive for cocaine. All of this was was unalloyed perjury.
|Ready for my close-up: Sheriff Gillespie.
At present, Yant remains on paid vacation
. Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie
insists that the coroner’s inquest conducted by his office was the epitome of institutional transparency. Gillespie acknowledges that there is room for improvement in the procedure for serving narcotics warrants — which is why this task will now be assigned to the Las Vegas SWAT team.
Bear in mind that militarizing the execution of arrest warrants is presented here as a “reform” triggered by an incident involving the needless use of lethal force. It’s not obvious how this policy change would reduce the likelihood of unnecessary civilian deaths. It is obvious, however, that SWAT teams are much more telegenic than run-of-the-mill counter-narcotics units — and there’s reason to believe that Sheriff Gillespie, like Detroit’s recently ousted police chief Warren Evans
, is playing to the “reality TV” audience
In May, the Las Vegas Tribune described a “mandatory meeting” called by Lieutenant Clinton Nichols that involved “more than thirty detectives” from the Metro Police Department. The detectives “were introduced to four civilian visitors, [who] were the production staff of the `COPS’ reality show. All thirty-three detectives with the robbery division were ordered, by the supervisory staff … to cooperate, participate and assist all four of those television producers while in Las Vegas….”
Detective Gordon Martines, a 36-year veteran police officer, was among those present at that gathering. Martines asked Langley Productions representative Susan Carney “who ordered the production.” According to Martines and at least one other officer who witnessed the conversation, Carney replied: “The Sheriff ordered this; we are here to help him with his campaign for re-election.”
That statement was greeted with expressions of stunned disbelief from the officers. Carney broke the awkward silence by asking if she had said something wrong.
“Maybe we should introduce you to Sheriff candidate Martines,” one of the other officers tersely explained.
On May 7, continued the Tribune, Martines filed a complaint with Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller alleging that Gillespie had violated election laws by using the television production company as a taxpayer-subsidized propaganda vehicle.
By any rational standard, it’s an act of corruption for a Sheriff or police chief to enlist the officers under his command as armed bit players in an election-year “reality” show — and it’s likely that Gillespie’s torqued priorities contributed to Trevon Cole’s eminently avoidable violent death.
The meeting described by Martines occurred before the COPS film crew recorded the “controlled buys” outside Trevon Cole’s apartment complex — stings in which the police tried, unsuccessfully, to lure Cole into selling them cocaine and firearms. According to several accounts, the COPS film crew was supposed to be “embedded” with Yant’s home invasion squad during the June 11 raid, but wasn’t available. That would explain why the serial killer and impenitent perjurer who led that raid selected a big-ass gun that would look good on TV, rather than being content with his department-issued sidearm.
In a rational world, nobody would be punished (let alone killed) for selling or consuming marijuana. Trevon “most likely would have gotten probation, given his lack of a criminal background,” according to Lagomarsino — if his arrest had been carried out by peace officers, rather than paramilitary poseurs.
|Gunned down: Erik Scott.
On September 22, the same inquest system that has repeatedly exonerated Bryan Yant will meet to ratify the actions of the Metro police officers who gunned down Erik Scott a month after the killing of Trevon Cole.
The 39-year-old West Point graduate was shot seven times by three officers in the parking lot of a Costcostore. Metro Captain Patrick Neville said the police had responded to complaints that Scott was armed and behaving erratically.
Scott, who had a concealed weapons permit, was carrying two weapons at the time he was killed. Neville claims that “a dozen witnesses” saw Scott pull a gun. That account is disputed by many other eyewitnesses who were present at the crowded retail store on a busy Saturday afternoon. Significantly, the relevant security camera video has been withheld, and the police have suggested that the most crucial video evidence may be lost to a mysterious — albeit oddly predictable — “glitch. ”
“Showtime Syndrome” probably didn’t play a significant role in the killing of Erik Scott, which was most likely a product of police over-reaction to the presence of an armed citizen. His father, William Scott, is an aviation journalist of national stature with “extensive contacts in military and intelligence circles.”
Thanks to William Scott’s influence, there is an anorexically slender possibility that the coroner’s inquest will be a legitimate investigation. If this does happen, more that a few Las Vegas residents will be prompted to ask why the same wasn’t true in the case of Trevon Cole. That’s when things could get really interesting….
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