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When Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers shot and killed Jorge Gomez after a Black Lives Matter protest last June, the department said the 25-year-old had pointed an assault rifle toward them and that the officers feared for their lives.
But surveillance footage of the moments just before the fatal shooting, obtained by the Gomez family’s attorney and shared with VICE News, shows that Gomez tripped and fell while running away from police and doesn’t appear to have his legally owned weapon in his hands at the time of the shooting. He was shot moments after he stood up, according to the new video.
Now, the attorney, the Gomez family, and local activists are calling for the arrests of the officers involved and for Clark County District Attorney Steven Wolfson to take legal action.
“Jorge had been practicing his constitutional rights,” attorney Rodolfo Gonzalez said during a press conference Friday morning. “He was walking these streets, right where we’re standing, protesting police brutality, protesting the wrongful killing of George Floyd. He took part in the BLM demonstration with guns on his person and a ballistic vest, all in compliance with Nevada’s open carry laws.”
Around 11 p.m. local time on June 1, Gomez began walking down Las Vegas Boulevard while carrying a legal handgun with a carbine conversion kit, which turns the weapon into a rifle. Police say Gomez was also carrying a handgun in his backpack, which violates Nevada’s open carry laws.
After police dispersed a crowd of hundreds protesting earlier in the night, Gomez walked past a group of officers standing at the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas. Police say they asked Gomez, who attorneys say was headed toward his parked car, to comply with orders to leave. After a brief exchange, one of the officers, who Gonzalez identified as Officer John Squeo, shot five non-lethal beanbag rounds.
As Gomez fled the non-lethal rounds, officers Ryan Fryman, Dan Emerton, Vernon Ferguson, and Andrew Locher, who were driving by, arrived on the scene for a separate call and exited their vehicles. Police say Gomez raised his gun toward the four officers who had just arrived, prompting them to shoot at the man 19 times. Gomez was then taken to the local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
But new footage from the nearby courthouse shows Gomez tripping and falling as he fled the non-lethal rounds. After he gets up, he continues to run from the non-lethal rounds being fired at him from behind. A second surveillance video from a different angle shows the moment of the shooting: Jorge is seen running and doesn’t appear to be aiming a firearm, before collapsing to the ground.
That’s not the story police told during a June 5 press conference about the shooting.
“As they exited their vehicles, Mr. Gomez raised that rifle in their direction,” Assistant Sheriff Christopher Jones said at the time. “These officers engaged Mr. Gomez, firing several shots and striking him.”
All four officers were not wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting as they were training staff assigned to the department’s developmental bureau, which doesn’t require its officers to wear them. Police say they were reassigned from their normal duties that night because the department needed as many officers as they could spare to help manage the large protests.
Officer Squeo was involved with two prior fatal shootings, according to Gonzalez, including one in October 2016.
“If any other person, other than a police officer did this, that person would be charged and criminally prosecuted for murder,” the attorney said Friday. “Police are not above the law. Police officers know the law and they’re trained not to use deadly force unless they pose an immediate threat. We don’t have that in this case.”
“If any other person, other than a police officer did this, that person would be charged and criminally prosecuted for murder.”
The Gomez family filed a lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the four officers in September. Gonzalez said that they recently amended the lawsuit to add Squeo to the lawsuit for his part in the deadly shooting.
In a statement to VICE News, the police department said the footage Gonzalez obtained came from them.
“The surveillance video released today by the Gomez family appears to be the same video that the LVMPD gave to the family’s counsel,” a spokesperson said. “The video was originally obtained by the LVMPD and is one piece of evidence that is being evaluated in the ongoing investigation.”
Gonzalez confirmed the footage came from the department’s lawyer but wondered why he only obtained a copy now.
”My question would be: Why didn’t you release this?” Gonzalez told VICE News. “Why did you wait eight months and 18 days to release it?” Gonzalez said his legal team will have more video to release in the future.
Police and criminal justice reform groups and Black Lives Matter activists, many who knew Gomez personally as he was heavily involved in local activism, joined his family in calls for justice and demanded the officers involved be held accountable.
“This is a very troubling case for us and for the community,” Athar Haseebullah, the ACLU of Nevada’s Executive Director told VICE News. “Jorge Gomez’s family deserves answers about what really happened that night. Our community deserves answers. There can’t be justice or accountability for police when transparency continues to be an issue.”
The Clark County district attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s investigation into Gomez’s death is still on-going.