Police Reform bill quickly passes Nevada Assembly

Bill would revise chokehold laws, recording police incidents, and more

The Assembly chambers on Friday, July 31, 2020 during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

A second special session of the Nevada State Legislature got underway yesterday to address several pressing issues affecting the state, and one of them is police reform.

To that end, Assemblyman Steve Yeager today introduced Assembly Bill 3 to members of the Assembly meeting as a committee of the whole.

Yeager wore several pins on his sport coat that he said emblemize his thinking on police reform.

One pin commemorated the Nevada Law Enforcement Officers Memorial on the Legislative campus. Yeager was awarded another pin for completing the Citizens Police Academy in 2018.

He also wore a Black Lives Matter pin and a pin bearing the image of Dr. Martin Luther King.

“I wear these four lapel pins together today because to me, these four lapel pins and the values that they reflect, they’re not mutually exclusive,” Yeager said. “Indeed they can and do live in the same space and breathe the same air, as do all of us as Nevadans and human beings. That fact may be uncomfortable to some. So be it. All are invited to join us on this journey, though some may decline the invitation, but onward we must move nonetheless. We can always do better.”

Here’s what the bill would do:

The Recording of Police Activity

The bill would authorize a person who is not under arrest or in the custody of a peace officer to record law enforcement activity in certain circumstances. The bill prohibits a police officer from interfering with a person’s lawful recording of a law enforcement activity.

The bill is clear to say the person recording the event cannot interfere with or obstruct law officers or violate any other law in an effort to record a law enforcement activity.

Specifically:

A peace officer shall not act to interfere with a person’s recording of a law enforcement  activity, including, without limitation, by:

(a) Intentionally preventing or attempting to prevent the person from recording a law enforcement activity

(b) Threatening the person for recording a law enforcement activity

(c) Commanding that the person cease recording a law enforcement activity when the person was nevertheless authorized by law to record the law enforcement activity

(d) Stopping, seizing or searching the person because he or she recorded a law enforcement activity

(e) Unlawfully seizing property or instruments used by the person to record a law enforcement activity, unlawfully destroying or seizing any recorded image of a law  enforcement activity or copying such a recording of a law enforcement activity without the consent of the person who recorded it or obtaining approval from an appropriate court.

Use of Force

The bill would change the official use of force policy so that when a peace officer is arresting a person and the person flees or forcibly resists, the peace officer is generally authorized to use only the amount of reasonable force necessary to effect the arrest.

Chokehold Prohibition

If made law, AB3 would prohibit a peace officer from using a choke hold on another person or placing a person who is in the custody of the peace officer in any position that compresses his or her airway or restricts his or her ability to breathe.

The bill also requires a peace officer to monitor any person who is in their custody for any signs of distress and to take any actions necessary to place the person in a recovery position if they appear to be in distress or indicate that they cannot breathe.

The bill further requires the police officer to ensure medical aid is rendered to any person who is injured by the use of physical force by the peace officer.

Peer Intervention

Under AB3, if a police officer sees another officer using “unjustified physical force,” and it is safe for the officer to intervene, the officer must intervene and report the abuse to their supervisor.

The bill also prevents any disciplinary action or retaliation being taken against an officer who reports an undue use of force.

The intervention policy must be adopted as part of all departmental police training.

Officer-Involved Shooting Drug Test

When an officer discharges their firearm in the course of duty and causes injury or death to one or more persons, according to language in AB3, the officer must submit to drug and alcohol testing, to include testing for the use of cannabis, prescription drugs and illegal drugs without limitation.

According to AB3, the drug and alcohol testing must be completed as soon as practicable after the shooting or the conduct of the peace officer that resulted in substantial bodily harm to or the death of another person, but not later than the end of the involved peace officer’s shift.

Questions from Assembly lawmakers were few. Public testimony both for and against the bill was extensive.

Speaker of the Assembly Jason Frierson presided over 2 hours of public testimony, one hour for and one hour against.

Chuck Calloway, director of intergovernmental services Las Vegas Metro Police Department was involved in the bill’s authorship, according to Assemblyman Yeager. Calloway said he supported the bill with a minor amendment.

The Nevada Sheriffs’ & Chiefs’ Association submitted a letter in support of the bill.

Holly Welborn policy director for the ACLU of Nevada offered testimony in support of AB3.

“This is really the bare minimum of change that needs to occur in order to foster accountability when people needlessly die at the hands of law enforcement,” Welborn said.

“I want to dispel the myth that banning restraints and chokehold will somehow bind the hands of law enforcement and I think by making the overall situation less safe. In fact, the opposite is true. I submitted a report to the committee that shows police departments that adopt across the board limitations on the use of force tactics see substantial decreases in officer-involved killing.

“The policies associated with the largest reductions of police-involved killing per population were policies that require comprehensive reporting. They saw 25 percent reduction that require officers to exhaust all other reasonable means before shooting saw a 25 percent reduction, and that bans on chokeholds and single hold saw a 22 percent reduction.”

In opposition, Ron Dreher, a retired Reno police officer spoke on behalf of the Public Safety Alliance of Nevada to include the Reno Police Benevolent Association. Dreher categorically opposes the bill and asked that any change to the state’s use of force policies be put off until the next regular session of the Legislature to be more thoroughly vetted.

“Please do not paint the professional police officers of Nevada with the same brush as what occurred in Minneapolis,” Dreher said.

William Ledford is director of advocacy for Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada. He spoke in support of AB3.

“All Lives cannot matter until Black Lives Matter,” Ledford said. “I refer to the parable of the shepherd with 100 sheep. Ninety-nine were fine, and one was lost, which sheep mattered in that story. I am tired of seeing videos of people begging for their lives and then losing them.”

The bill passed the Assembly on a 38 to 4 vote.


Brian Bahouth is the founding editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Support is reporting.