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Chief, Mayor vow changes after police prevented reporters from covering homeless sweep

By Jeri Chadwell
Published: Last Updated on
Reno Police officers prevented journalists from entering a homeless camp clean-up site. Officers demanded we leave the scene. Image: Bob Conrad.

By Jeri Davis and Bob Conrad

This Is Reno was told Friday by Acting City Manager and Reno Police Chief Jason Soto that its journalists would, in the future, not be denied access to report on the cleanup of homeless encampments—as was the case on Wednesday morning.

“As you know, it is very important to me to allow media as much access as possible,” Soto told This Is Reno. “I cannot express enough how important you and your employees are to me, and this will not happen again in the future.”

Cleanup of a homeless encampment near the Truckee River and railroad tracks began before 6 a.m. on Wednesday. Early in the morning, This Is Reno reporters received no pushback from officers while doing their work.

Later in the day, however, reporters from Our Town Reno, KRNV and This Is Reno were ordered off the public access right of way. Police officers on scene cited “construction” activity for why they should not be allowed there.

According to Soto, the matter is being looked into, and he has directed the city’s public information officer to be present at “all future clean-ups to help facilitate access in a safe and efficient manner.”

Reno Police launched an early morning cleanup of a homeless encampment in downtown Reno. Image: Isaac Hoops
Despite a heavy police presence during a cleanup of a homeless encampment, reporters were allowed to do their work unencumbered in the early morning. Image: Isaac Hoops

In the process of reporting this story, it was conveyed to This Is Reno that police officer Ryan Gott was helping oversee the cleanup and was, according to two witnesses, bullying the houseless people there. This Is Reno has ordered Gott’s body camera footage to determine if this was the case.

Reno police media liaison Travis Warren did not return multiple requests for information after initially promising answers.

In April, a complaint was filed against Gott by homeless advocate Lisa Lee of the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality because of a comment he made to her on Facebook.

In response to Lee’s praise of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s plan for reopening Nevada in the wake of the pandemic, Gott wrote: “Lisa Lee you are dumber than most thought… and THAT IS SAYING SOMETHING. The numbers along with Sisolak don’t add up. The curve has been flat for weeks in NV. This state needs to reopen at least partially. This state is dying and it’s morons like you keeping it that way. Load up as many homeless as you can and leave the state.”

Lee said she has not received an official response from RPD about her complaint.

This Is Reno asked for an update on the complaint, as well as why Gott was there given his past statements about the homeless. Soto did not provide answers to these questions, saying it was a matter of policy.

“In terms of officers and/or discipline, all formal complaints are investigated through Internal Affairs. Any and all discipline is not given out to the media per our City Attorney’s Office. I would suggest reaching out to them,” Soto said.

Mayor Hillary Schieve called the incidents concerning. She said camp cleanups should be conducted more by social workers and less by cops. 

“De-escalation training is needed,” she added.

Officials comment on This Is Reno reporter’s assault

This Is Reno also asked some councilmembers and Chief Soto why they had not denounced the assault of This Is Reno Reporter Don Dike-Anukam by rioters on Saturday.

“Your email to me has just made me aware of the assault to your student reporter,” Soto said. “And I can absolutely tell you that I denounce ANY violence to any persons at peaceful, legal protests. Your reporter is a personal friend of mine through the media, and it breaks my heart that he was injured.”

Rioters outside City Hall as it's vandalized. Image: Ty O'Neil
A This Is Reno reporter was assaulted by rioters outside City Hall shortly after this image was taken.
Image: Ty O’Neil

Councilmember Devon Reese would not provide comment. He said he “needed more context.”

Councilmembers Neoma Jardon and Jenny Brekhus both expressed their concerns.

“What happened to Don Dike-Anukam is horrific and unacceptable,” Jardon said. “Don is a good man doing great work and my heart breaks that he was harmed. Violence cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Dike-Anukam was treated for a minor concussion on Sunday after Saturday’s attack. He has filed reports with the Reno Police Department and a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Use-of-force polices to change

Soto on Wednesday said he is requesting use-of-force changes for the Reno Police Department. 

Those changes, announced Friday, include:

  • New guidelines on Peer Intervention and De-escalation
  • Prohibiting techniques intended to restrict an individual’s airway and/or breathing
  • Restrictions on shooting at or from vehicles
  • Considering other options and warnings before using deadly force
  • Increased supervisor oversight and responsibilities
  • Increased Internal Affairs oversight and responsibilities

“The events of this week have been challenging for cities all across this nation, and Reno is no exception. But I am committed to providing a safe community that continues to hold open conversations about policy, procedure and trust with all of our community and media,” Soto said. “We acknowledge that frustration exists in our community, and across the nation, and that this is a painful time for many.”

People around the world are protesting American police violence in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. Four police officers face charges of murder and manslaughter for his death. 

Many are advocating for fundamental change to the nature of U.S. law enforcement, including removing qualified immunity and reducing the power of police unions.

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