City of Reno will reconsider its Use of Force Policies and add Excessive Force Intervention

The City of Reno imposed a 7:00 p.m. curfew on May 2, 2020. A handful of police stood watch on Reno City Hall - photo: Brian Bahouth/The Ally

Today marked the first Reno City Council meeting since the vandalism and riot at City Hall on Saturday, May 30. As many as 60 citizens signed in to the electronic meeting to offer public comment. Following several hours of remarks, Interim Reno City Manager Jason Soto announced that the City will reconsider its Use of Force Policies and add guidance that that enables an officer to intervene when another officer is using excessive force.

Last Saturday Evening

A peaceful Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest turned ugly when vandals not affiliated with the BLM gathering broke into Reno City Hall and damaged City Council Chambers and other rooms and attempted to set the building on fire.

Reno police officers, in riot gear, established a barricade around City Hall at the intersection of First and Virginia streets. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and other police agencies worked in support.

The confrontation had a cycle that lasted well into the evening. Protesters would congregate in gradually growing numbers near the line of police. As many as a couple hundred protesters occupied Virginia Street. Some taunted the officers. A few threw water bottles at the police. Most sat or stood on Virginia Street chanting “I can’t breathe.”

Protesters clashed with police at Reno City Hall on Saturday May 30, 2020 – photo: Brian Bahouth

The police did not engage the protesters verbally. It appeared that when protesters got too close, too boisterous, or too large in number, the police would deploy pepper gas and concussion grenades that temporarily dispersed the crowd in a cloud of acrid smoke.

But given time to recover, the protesters would return and encroach on the barricade until police disbursed them once again. Reno Police and Washoe County Sheriff’s eventually arrested nearly 50 people on charges that ranged from arson to curfew violations.

Curfew Controversy

Even though the City said there was no imminent threat to public safety, “out of an abundance of caution,” the Mayor imposed a 7:00 p.m. curfew on Tuesday, June 2, with the proviso that more curfews could be imposed.

During public comment on June 3, multiple citizens expressed concern that an indiscriminate curfew accomplished nothing other than to limit the ability to peacefully assemble. Following the meeting, the City rescinded the citywide curfew implemented on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

Gatherings of 50 or more people are discouraged.

Several who offered public comment asked council members to consider their views on race.

A few called for the resignation of Mayor Hillary Shieve and Interim City Manager Jason Soto.

Some called to defund and disband the Reno Police Department.

Reno resident Shyla Summers read a list of demands to include the release of investigation records surrounding the death of 18-year-old Miciah Lee, an officer-involved shooting in Sparks in January of this year.

Cue Bronson is a Reno resident who said the City Council is “anemic to reform and overtly repressive.” Bronson’s comments were reflective of many.

“I would expect the police in Turkey to tear gas their own citizens wantonly and with avarice. That’s a repressive police state where I first tasted tear gas. Well, welcome to Reno.

“I agree it is appropriate to call for the resignation of the mayor and the police chief who is somehow simultaneously operating as city manager. If that ain’t white privilege and undemocratic institutional entrenchment, I don’t know what is. Mayor, you are wrong. Police manager chief, you are wrong,” said Bronson via Zoom.

After several hours of emotional public comment, none of which was in support of police actions during the riot, the Council took a brief recess. When they reconvened, Jason Soto responded.

“There was a few things that really came out of many of their public comments that resonated with me,” Soto said. “First of all, is recognizing all of us, recognizing our own implicit biases and things that we need to work on continually.

“A couple of suggestions that I have heard was, we’re tired of talk and we want to see some action. One of the policies that was brought up by one of the public comments was somebody that said that we should, at the Reno Police Department, have a policy to intervene.

“And as I watched the senseless killing of George Floyd, I was every bit as disturbed with the lack of intervention. So I have directed our acting police chief to begin crafting a policy into which our officers are required to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force. That’s a start,” Soto said.

Jason Soto reflected on the Reno Police Force participation in the 2015 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Soto said the effort helped the department look more critically at itself and identify needed reform.

“So you certainly have my commitment and looking at policy,” Soto said. “Again, I’ve directed acting chief Tom Robinson to create policy for officers to intervene. I’ve also directed acting chief Robinson to review our Use of Force Policy. All of these steps and measures need to take place given what is happening in our country.”

The Reno Use of Force Policy was obtained through a Nevada Open Records Act request submitted by MuckRock.

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