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Protestors demand details of Miciah Lee, a young Black man shot and killed by Sparks Police (updated)


This story was produced in partnership with KUNR Public Radio.

UPDATE (June 30): Lee’s death was ruled justified by D.A. Hicks. Read that story here.

Dozens of protestors gathered Friday in front of the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office to demand the release of details and body cam footage of an officer-involved shooting, which killed Miciah Lee, a young Black man. 

In January 2020, Sparks Police Department officers responded to a call of an allegedly suicidal person, identified as 18-year-old Sparks resident Miciah Lee.

Lee allegedly drove away from the scene, and Sparks PD spotted him a few blocks away. Lee crashed the vehicle, and police said he reached towards a weapon before Sparks Police officers shot and killed him, according to the Associated Press.

Lee’s mother, Susan Clopp, and community members want answers.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks.
Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks.

Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks is in charge of evaluating the incident and determining if this officer-involved shooting (OIS) was justifiable. Most OIS shootings have been determined justified under Nevada law.

Officer-involved shooting reports can be thousands of pages long and can take weeks to thoroughly complete, and the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed some of these operations, according to the Sierra Nevada Ally

Protestors criticized the Washoe County District Attorney for the lack of immediacy in releasing officer-involved shooting reports. The last report published was on June 16, 2020, for a Sparks Police Department officer-involved shooting of 57-year-old Rolando Brizuela that occurred on July 17, 2018.

The investigation of Lee’s death has not yet been released. In response, protestors participated in a die-in demonstration in front of the D.A.’s Office.

Clopp stood next to a vertical poster taller than her, with a drawing of Lee, while protestors laid with their backs on a hot North Sierra Street.

“DA Hicks release the body cam footage for my son’s murder,” Clopps said over a bullhorn. “I’ve already seen the viral videos and it shows he was murdered.”

Sources told This Is Reno the details could be released by Hicks as early as Monday. 

In front of Washoe County District Attorney’s Office
Image: Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio.

What is a die-in?

Demonstrators held posters in the shape of tombstones, with the names of local people who have died in the hands of law enforcement, including the Reno Police Department (RPD), Sparks PD and Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.

Some wielded black tombstones, which represented investigations that have been completed, while others held white tombstones with cases that have not been released. Over a quarter of the tombstones were white.

Those laying on the street took turns leading Reno-Sparks specific chants such as, “DA Hicks we can see, you’re covering for the Sparks PD, they murdered him in the street, justice for Miciah Lee.”

The protestors did not disrupt traffic as they anticipated because RPD blocked and redirected traffic. 

Co-organizer, Nathaniel Phillipps, explained why the group decided to hold a die-in. 

“Die-in is a tactic that organizers use to both, visually and dramatically demonstrate. It’s about embodiment. When I say that, I mean, using our body as a tool to protest,” Phillipps said. “We have our banners, our signs, our megaphones, but our bodies are a tool. Bayard Rustin is a famous, civil rights icon, he organized with MLK (Martin Luther King, Jr.), the March on Washington. He said [that] we have to put our bodies in the spokes, in the wheels of the system, so they no longer turn.”

Recent accounts of police brutality have sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the country and in Nevada, and people are demanding structural changes in law enforcement. Phillipps said officers should not respond to non-violent situations.

“Mental health professionals can respond to mental health crises. People without guns can respond to nonviolent situations. Other countries, police forces don’t have guns or only certain forces have guns, so those are also things, when we say abolish the police.”

Local law enforcement agencies face continued criticism for not releasing information, such a body cam footage, in a timely manner. Other police entities release footage within 48 hours, but locally, police are denying the release of information for months, even years at a time, under the guise of “open investigations.”

Public records orders in recent incidents have been denied by the Reno Police Department for this reason, and RPD to date has not revealed, in at least two incidences, what is being investigated and why. RPD closed one records request from This Is Reno without providing the records, a potential violation of the Nevada Public Records Act.

Letter to Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks
Image: Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio.

Demonstrators attempt to deliver a letter to DA

Protestors made a short march through downtown Reno to the Bruce R. Thompson Courthouse and Federal Building. As the crowd made their way some yelled at RPD officers who were redirecting traffic, telling them to quit their jobs. 

No RPD officers were wearing masks. Gov. Steve Sisolak this week mandated masks in public settings, but law enforcement is exempted from that rule

Once at the courthouse, demonstrators laid down again, this time in the grass. One of the co-organizers read a letter to Hicks out loud. 

“We demand body cam footage be released to the families within 48 hours after any officer-involved shootings. We demand that the Reno and Sparks Police Departments be defunded and have the funds relocated to mental health services, both in honor of Miciah’s life, as well as to prevent any such tragedies from happening again,” the speaker said.

The letter was signed, the Reno-Sparks community. The group then marched to the Reno Justice Court to hand-deliver the letter to Hicks.

Clopp, Phillipps and a few other organizers entered the building, but allegedly Hicks was not inside.

After Clopp left the building, she got in a confrontation with a law enforcement officer. She was trying to express her dismay and frustration, and was surrounded by protestors and two broadcast television cameramen, from KRNV and KOLO 8. 

As the cameramen were trying to film the interaction, protestors put their tombstone-shaped posters in front of their cameras, shouting that they should stop filming Clopp, alleging that she has been the target of harassment. 

The altercation briefly escalated, as the KOLO 8 journalist and protestors started pushing one another. The cameraman shoved one of the protestors before the crowd broke up and the two cameramen left.

A different employee from KOLO 8 later approached the protestors and said that news is not the enemy, and protestors do not want to make them the enemy. 

Officers ultimately told everyone to disperse from the front steps of the Reno Justice Court, stating that there needs to be a fire escape.

A handful of protestors continued north on Sierra Street and the protest ended in a yelling match with a man in an American flag t-shirt across the street.

Video by Nico Colombant, Our Town Reno.
Lucia Starbuck
Lucia Starbuck
Lucia Starbuck is a graduate of University of Nevada, Reynolds School of Journalism. She has reported on issues impacting Northern Nevada, including the affordable housing crisis, a lack of oral healthcare and challenges voters with disabilities face while trying to participate in the election process. She has directed and filmed two documentaries about homelessness.Through reporting, Lucia strives to shine a light on the challenges vulnerable populations face in our community.