NOTE: This article contains explicit language and police video footage of graphic violence.
More than five months after the fatal, officer-involved shooting of 18-year-old Sparks man Miciah Lee, Washoe County District Attorney (DA) Chris Hicks has determined that Sparks Police Department (SPD) officers were justified under Nevada law in their use of deadly force.
Local agencies today released the 911-call audio from Lee’s mother, Susan Klopp, and video footage of Lee’s death — as well as the events leading up to Lee’s death. In a series of videos, including raw body camera footage and a produced video, Sparks police officers explained the fatal incident and the department’s use of dash-mounted and body cameras.
Michelle Bays, chief investigator and public information officer for the DA’s office, said the release of information came “immediately after [the department] met with the Lee family and presented our findings in person.”
Citizens have been demanding the details of Lee’s death be presented publicly. Lee, who was Black, was killed prior to George Floyd, who died on May 25 at the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death, for which four Minneapolis police officers face murder and manslaughter charges, sparked worldwide outrage at America’s law enforcement system.
The May 30 riots in Reno saw the Reno Police station vandalized and the first floor of City Hall destroyed after a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally held in the wake of Floyd’s killing.
Locally, citizens are advocating for police reform and increased transparency, including quicker investigations and the release of available body cam footage within 48 hours.
Investigations concerning officer-involved shootings in the Truckee Meadows are typically conducted in conjunction with the three local law enforcement agencies—Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Reno Police Department and SPD—with officials from the uninvolved departments investigating before turning the results of their inquiry over to the DA’s office for a decision.
In this case, the RPD investigated SPD.
In a statement released concerning the case, Washoe County DA Chris Hicks said:
“Mr. Lee’s death was a tragic end to a young man’s life and this community should be saddened by it. As District Attorney, my ethical and professional responsibility is to justly uphold the law and apply it equally and objectively in all situations. I have always abided by that responsibility, when the world is looking and when it is not. My decision in this case is based on the law in Nevada and upon a thorough review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident and the actions of the officers involved in the shooting.”
A 50-page report containing photos, identification of the people involved, witness accounts and the incident’s legal analysis is available on the DA’s website.
Miciah Lee’s death
On Jan. 5, at 5:48 p.m., a 911 call was received by Sparks Police emergency dispatch from Susan Clopp, Miciah Lee’s mother. She can be heard informing the dispatcher that her son was suicidal and intent upon death by either suicide or “cop.”
At the time, she said, Lee was armed with a handgun and parked in a silver Pontiac near Chuck’s Boulevard Pizza, a restaurant on Rock Boulevard in Sparks. Clopp told the dispatcher she and her two other sons were attempting to block Lee’s car with their bodies, so he wouldn’t leave.
During the 911 call, Clopp said she worried Lee would run them over in his attempt to flee. Clopp also said Lee was mentally unstable and had a history of drug use. Shortly thereafter, Lee pushed past his family and left the area in the Pontiac.
Video footage from officer body and dash-mounted cameras show SPD officer Ryan Patterson locating Lee’s vehicle near the intersection of 13th and G streets just a few minutes later.
Following a brief chase, Lee struck the rear end of a sedan that was waiting at the stop sign at the intersection of 15th Street and Rock Boulevard. Patterson pushed his vehicle against Lee’s vehicle to block him in, the officer exited his vehicle and repeatedly shouted at Lee to put his “fucking hands up.”
Lee revved his engine, put his car into reverse and attempted to push the sedan in front of him out of his way.
According to the DA’s office, “For nearly a minute, Lee thrust his vehicle into the back of the occupied blue sedan, which caused his vehicle’s tires to spin and squeal. The driver of the blue sedan continually pressed on his brakes in order to avoid being pushed onto Rock Boulevard.”
An officer shattered Lee’s window by firing a foam projectile through it, according to the report, but by this time, “Lee had created enough space to maneuver his vehicle” between the sedan and Patterson’s vehicle and sped away, northbound on Rock Boulevard into a residential neighborhood.
Also, according to the report, Lee drove in excess of 70 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone for three-quarters of a mile while attempting to evade police before trying to make a left-hand turn onto North McCarran Boulevard. He crashed into a retaining wall on McCarran, careened across two lanes and stopped on the center median of McCarran between the travel lanes.
Officers who pursued Lee used their vehicles to block his potential exits and approached Lee’s car, shouting at him to show his hands.
Body camera video footage shows Patterson leaning into Lee’s vehicle, attempting to physically remove Lee from the driver’s seat after another officer opened the car door.
The video shows Patterson shouting that Lee had a gun. Five shots—confirmed to have come from Patterson’s gun—and an additional two shots can be heard in the seconds thereafter. The other two shots came from SPD officer Eric DeJesus, who’d approached Lee’s vehicle on the passenger side.
Camera footage from the officers shows them calling for medical assistance, moments after the shooting. Patterson can be heard wrangling his police dog, which he’d released to apprehend Lee, back into his vehicle. Afterward, he can be heard crying as he repeatedly tells his fellow officers that Lee was reaching for his gun.
The .40 caliber Glock pistol Lee was carrying was not loaded, the report noted.
“The investigation included interviewing witnesses, canvassing the shooting area for additional witnesses, collecting physical evidence, photographing the shooting scene, forensically testing collected evidence, obtaining available video evidence, reviewing medical records of Lee, and interviewing multiple officers to include those involved in the shooting,” the report indicated.
Lee’s killing ruled justified
No criminal charges against Officers Patterson or DeJesus were recommended by RPD.
The DA said, “evaluation included reviewing approximately [1,000] pages of reports and documents, which included interviews of police and civilian witnesses. It further included the review of all photographs, hours of video and audio recordings, and examination of the scene of the shooting.”
The DA concluded, “While the unfortunate reality of the tragic death of Miciah Lee cannot be overstated, the facts and circumstances of the entire incident when applied to Nevada law reveal the actions of Officer Patterson and Officer DeJesus were legally justified.”
Online, the backlash came quickly from various local social justice groups. On the Reno Cop Watch Facebook page, a post read: “18 year old Miciah Lee was killed by Sparks Police Officer [sic] Eric Dejesus and Ryan Patterson. Patterson fired 5 shots. Dejesus fired 2 shots immediately after that….gotta make sure they get the job done. This child did not need to die. It’s sickening how they continue to criminalize Miciah calling a suicidal teen a suspect! I hope your tears flow heavy and hard daily for Miciah, Officer Patterson!”
Online publication Our Town Reno posted: “Report by the Washoe County DA office deems January 5th killing by Sparks PD of Black teenager Miciah Lee, which became a focal point of local #BlackLivesMatter protests, as “justified” under Nevada law. Can’t there be a way where a mom’s pleas for help for a troubled son doesn’t end up in him being gunned down and killed inside his vehicle after an attack dog was unleashed?”
Many, including local police officers, have said that law enforcement officers are not equipped to deal with the variety of issues they confront, dealing with the mentally ill in particular.
Protesters have cited the length of time, more than five months, that has passed between the death of Lee and the release of the DA’s report. During a June 22 virtual town hall on policing, Reno Police Chief Jason Soto said people might not want to hear it, but that he thought the timeframe for a thorough investigation into Lee’s death was reasonable.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.