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Home > Featured > Douglas Sheriff under fire for telling libraries to not call 911 for help

Douglas Sheriff under fire for telling libraries to not call 911 for help

By Jeri Davis
Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley

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Douglas County Sheriff Daniel Coverley sent a letter Tuesday, July 27, to the Douglas County Public Library Board of Trustees that’s making waves within the community and beyond. 

The letter was also published on the DCSO website under “news.”

In it, Coverley criticizes the board for its support of the Black Lives Matter movement and ultimately tells the library and its staff, “Due to your support of Black Lives Matter and the obvious lack of support or trust with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, please do not feel the need to call 911 for help. 

“I wish you good luck with disturbances and lewd behavior, since those are just some of the recent calls my office has assisted you with in the past.”

The Douglas County Public Library Board of Trustees intended to hold a meeting on July 28 during which they were to discuss a proposed diversity statement mentioning Black Lives Matter. The meeting was canceled.

Coverley—who has been a member of the DCSO since 1997 and sheriff since 2019—wrote in the letter that the “tragic and preventable death of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis Police officers shined a national spotlight on bad actors within the law enforcement profession” but, nonetheless, “data simply does not support claims that law enforcement is systemically racist or structurally biased.”

Much of Coverley’s missive plagiarizes a June 22, 2020 letter by multiple state attorneys general to U.S. house and senate leaders.

The letter compared civilian deaths at the hands of police officers to the assault and deaths of police officers, noting that in 2019 there “were nine fatal shootings of unarmed black persons (down from thirty-eight in 2015) and nineteen fatal shooting of unarmed white persons (down from thirty-two in 2015),” also saying “those deaths represent 0.1% of all black homicide victims and 0.3% of all white homicide victims.” 

He compared this to “recent weeks of national unrest,” writing that, “750 officers have already been injured defending their communities from the violence that has swept our country. Two members of law enforcement have already lost their lives.”

“Numerous Black Lives Matter protests have resulted in violence, property damage and the closing of local businesses, sometimes permanently,” Coverley wrote. “To support this movement is to support violence and to openly ask for it to happen in Douglas County.”

Statements draw criticism

This Is Reno reached out for statements from the Douglas County Library Board of Trustees, the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association and the DCSO.

We did not hear back from Douglas County Public Information Officer Melissa Blosser prior to publication of the story. However, Eric Spratley, Executive Director of the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association—a professional, social, non-profit association for law enforcement agencies in the state—commented on Coverley’s letter.

“‘Please do not feel the need to call 911 for help,’ Spratley said, reading from the letter. “Yeah, that’s a pretty drastic statement there. I would direct any comment on that, as to what he’s thinking, back to him. Things become passionate on both sides of this argument. And people choose to react the way they’re going to react. 

Rioters vandalize the Reno Police Department's headquarters. Image: Ty O'Neil
Rioters vandalize the Reno Police Department’s headquarters and burn an American flag. Image: Ty O’Neil

“So, I’m not giving the sheriff a pass or commenting on his comment or judging his comment—but if you go to the other side of the matter, the Black Lives Matter website, it does say, ‘The police don’t keep us safe,’ and they call it a corrupt criminal justice system—and that’s troubling,” Spratley added. “For people to support that thought process is troubling for law enforcement because we’re trying to be involved in our communities.”

Spratley went on to add that it is troubling “when people are burning City Hall in Reno, tagging up the police station there when you’ve got leadership at the Reno Police Department that is actively engaged with underserved communities,” trying to have dialogue with people of color and their leaders.

“In Nevada we’re really trying to do our best to make sure we’re inclusive and not one-sided, and we proclaim that we reject discrimination toward any person,” he said. “That’s what we believe as an organization.”

Spratley acknowledged that, “it seems like that letter could be a little bit frustrating,” but said he had no knowledge of what had been said or done by the Douglas County Library Board of Trustees to prompt its writing.

This Is Reno called Coverley for comment. His Public Information Officer, Jeff Schemenauer, said the sheriff was busy for part of the afternoon and the letter “speaks for itself.”

However, a short time later, DCSO issued another media release walking back Coverley’s statements. The second post noted that DSCO “will continue to respond to all 911 calls, including those at the Library.”

In the statement, Coverley is quoted: “My response to the Library’s proposed agenda item was to provide public comment about their proposed diversity statement and to further provide open commentary about how this could affect our local law enforcement profession.”

Wesley Juhl, communications manager for the Nevada ACLU chimed in on the matter on Twitter, linking to the original letter and writing, “First of all, this is just a library district trying to be inclusive, but this would be monstrous no matter who it was. Police have a sworn duty to protect everyone.

“Also, Black people are 21.91x more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in Douglas County, which has the largest racial disparities in Nevada.”

In that tweet he linked to an ACLU research report examining racial disparities in marijuana arrests across the country between 2010 and 2018.

Coverley sued for excessive force

A plagiarized section of Coverley’s letter notes “only 2% of people who had any contact with police anytime in the prior twelve months said that officers used or even threatened to use force against them.” 

Coverley in 2003 was one of those officers. Coverley and another law enforcement officer found themselves embroiled in an excessive force lawsuit surrounding the 2001 arrest of a Gardnerville man. Douglas County eventually settled this lawsuit.

Before becoming sheriff last year, Coverley told the Record Courier that he’d received a one-day suspension as a result of the incident during which he was videotaped grabbing a man and lifting him by the neck.

Video footage of the incident was obtained and aired by CNN, and has since been shared by others on YouTube.  It shows then 27-year-old Gene Jordan handcuffed and being choked by Coverley as he’s lifted from the ground.

“To clear up any confusion: For the incident in 2001, I was disciplined and suspended for one day for using an improper lifting technique,” he told the Record Courier. “The incident was investigated for excessive use of force, and I was cleared.”

Reached by phone today, the attorney for Jordan, J. Andre Boles, said the excessive use-of-force case against Coverley was settled out of court.

Read Coverley’s initial letter in its entirety here. Read the follow-up statement here.

A protest is scheduled at the Sheriff’s Office for August 8. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/314657032990745/

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4 comments

Avatar
Norman Bright July 29, 2020 - 12:08 pm

Sheriff Coverley has self revealed by his own words, he is an ignorant and dangerously armed individual driving around in a police vehicle without an understanding of the NV or US Constitution or his function as a decent human being and member of the community. Real police will tell you 10% of any departments hires are squirrels and shouldn’t be employed in law enforcement. Sheriff Coverley and 10% of that department are a danger to themselves and the Douglas community and should be found out and removed before a real police situation develops that will cost Nevadans millions of dollars. Mark my word or be you’ll be sorry when that video pops up on national news! Like the Elijah McClain video it may be out there waiting to be found.

Avatar
Paul Gaither July 29, 2020 - 10:42 am

Law enforcement is an essential part of modern society. That being said, the police are not held to nearly the standards they should be. Solider in a war zone have to go through more provisions before employing deadly force than any active duty officer. Similarly, active duty soldiers are also subject to deeper inquiry and punishment for failing to follow the rules. Law enforcement officers should be held to even higher standards and regulations, not fewer and less severe ones.

My father taught me long ago a statement that remains true to this day: When seconds matter, the police are minutes away. I have countless personal experiences of police NOT behaving as the community role models they are supposed to be. While anecdotal, I can only speak for myself when I say that I do not trust the police, not even as a white male.

Remember, while their job is to serve and protect, it is not you the average citizen they are serving and protecting but rather the state and the state’s interests. If a cop is shot in the line of duty, they pull out all stops to find the culprit and bring them to justice. When civilian is shot, they may or may not get on the case if they have the time and resources. If there is an accident on the highway involving an officer, you can be sure to see a chopper over head in hot pursuit and full investigation and more. If there is a hit and run with two civilians, then good luck having little more than a report being taken. The list goes on and on.

So, when Douglas County Sheriff Daniel Coverley tells someone not to bother calling 9/11, that just reinforces my point. In a war zone, military doctors will heal enemy combatants, but at the home front the police will only help you selectively. Mr. Coverley, if you read this, then I hope you are more aware of public perception of not only you, but the position you hold. Is that something you are proud of? Youcan be the change we need, or you can be part of the problem. What do you want to be?

Avatar
kate vichich July 29, 2020 - 8:11 am

There is something wrong with someone who sees the statement “Black Lives Matter”, a plea for the lives of black people, as a threat. But I guarantee you that a sheriff who threatens to not answer 911 calls because you support BLM is indeed a threat to the whole community. Will he respond to homes with BLM signs in the yard? It seems he has larger issues with race that need investigating. With great power comes great responsibility. It seems both Coverly and his superiors have problems handling such power. I would love to hear how the black people in Douglas County, Nevada feel they are treated by the sheriff. How much profiling goes on. How often are they stopped and mistreated for driving while black, etc. THAT should be investigated. But really, it’s clear that if this sheriff’s department doesn’t like your politics you will not receive the same response (if any?) from this department. They just admitted it. And that’s unamerica. And yet, sadly now, so American.

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Brown Victor July 28, 2020 - 10:52 pm

21 year Douglas County resident here. I’ve lived in 14 different countries, and dealt with law enforcement, and law breakers, in each of them. My propensity is to look at such matters as this sheriff’s letter from as many view points as possible. Having done so, I must say that stand with Sheriff Can Coverley, 100%. His observations are verifiably accurate, well reasoned, reinforced by his historical and statistical data, and very likely exactly what a great many citizens of Douglas County would like to have expressed themselves. This is a good man, making valid observations, and evidencing integrity in abundance. Thank You, Sheriff Coverley.

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