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Sparks City Hall vandalized after mayor defends police (updated)

By Lucia Starbuck
Published: Last Updated on

Red paint was poured on the walls and steps outside Sparks City Hall sometime early this morning. The words “No Justice” and “ACAB” [all cops are bastards] were written in red as well.

The vandalism occurred in the wake of Sparks Mayor Ron Smith and former Mayor Geno Martini defending police.

Public comment during Sparks City Council’s virtual meeting on Monday was filled with callers demanding that the City reallocate funding from the Sparks Police Department into mental health services, and for the public to have more immediate access to body cam footage of officer-involved shootings, according to the Sierra Nevada Ally.

Community members also shared their dismay and frustrations for the fatal officer-involved shooting by Sparks PD of Miciah Lee, an 18-year-old Black man, in January of this year. Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks deemed the shooting legally justified at the end of June. 

In the events leading up to Lee’s death, Lee’s mother called 9-1-1 to report that her son was suicidal, had a gun and was threatening to, “die by cop,” which means to act in an aggressive behavior to warrant being killed by law enforcement

Two Sparks PD officers, Ryan Patterson and Eric DeJesus, shot Lee a total of seven times after he drove dangerously through Sparks, evaded police and crashed his vehicle two times. Lee was pronounced dead at the scene.

Community questions police response

Community members questioned why law enforcement officers respond to mental health crises. They also demanded that funding be taken from police budgets and reallocated to mental health services to handle situations like these in the future and in order to avoid costing lives.

Other community members were outraged upon learning that Officer DeJesus shot and killed another community member, Jorge Moreno-Aguirre, in 2016. 

Moreno-Aguirre was driving while intoxicated and had several weapons in his car. Sparks PD officers Shane Minick and DeJesus responded to a 9-1-1 call about a drunk driver. 

Similar to Lee, Moreno-Aguirre also sped through Sparks and did not follow the officers’ commands to get out of the vehicle. Minick and DeJesus shot Moreno-Aguirre, killing him. The Washoe County District Attorney also ruled the killing justified after reviewing  the officer-involved shooting report.

“Officer Minick, firmly convinced that Moreno-Aguirre still had the weapon and was about to shoot Officer DeJesus, fired his weapon. Hearing a shot ring out, Officer DeJesus also fired believing that he was either being shot at or was about to be shot,” the report noted.

DeJesus’ actions are similar to how he reacted to the shooting of Miciah Lee. Patterson shot Lee first, a total of five times, and DeJesus said he believed Patterson was being shot so he fired his weapon as well. Officers are legally protected when their safety, and the public’s safety, is in jeopardy.

For Lee’s case, community members questioned why it took so long for the body cam footage to be released. The Reno chapter of the NAACP told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the body cam footage should have been released in January or February. 

Officers DeJesus and Patterson were determined to have acted justifiably.

After listening to public comment during the Monday City Council meeting, former Mayor Martini and current Mayor Smith expressed frustration at the calls to defund the police. 

Smith said he would be taking the opposite approach, according to the RGJ.

Smith defended the actions of Sparks officers, and, vowing that he would never defund the police, said he is interested in hiring more police officers.

Martini chastised those criticizing the police.

“So, boys and girls, you kids that are so angry and so socially liberal, get a clue please,” Martini said, as reported by the RGJ. “Walk a mile in a policeman’s shoes. Get off your collective butt. Go out and ride with a policeman sometime. You have no clue, really.

“Murdering people, black, brown, whatever. It’s kind of funny how they got murdered doing something that was against the law.”

A City of Sparks employee on scene this morning said cleaning crews will come today and damages could be in the thousands of dollars. Taxpayers would end up covering the costs, the employee said. The City of Sparks did not respond with an official comment.

Update, 10:20 a.m.:

This morning, Sparks Assistant City Manager Doug Thornley said no suspects have been identified yet.

“The police have taken a report and are going through the surveillance videos to see if there’s any information there that might be relevant,” Thornley said. “In general, it’s disappointing but it’s a thing that happens. It is just vandalism and while we’re frustrated…it’s a way that people express themselves. While it is not what we prefer to have happen, I think everyone can get their heads around it because of the energy in the community.”

He also acknowledged that, “this is an exceptionally difficult and important conversation,” and that both the city and the police department are looking at ways to be a part of the solution.

“It’s a conversation we need to have. It’s one we need to have with the state legislature. It’s one that we need to have locally with the departments and the Sheriff’s office. And it’s one we need to have internally. And it’s certainly one where public input needs to be, and will be, welcomed.”

This type of input, however, he said was not the appropriate forum.

As for cleanup, Thornley said there wasn’t yet an estimate on the costs but that Sparks council members will likely be on hand today to help out.

This story is developing and may be updated.

Local law enforcement vows quicker release of body cam footage

Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam early today announced his office would release body cam footage within two weeks after an officer-involved shooting.

“We are community listeners and community protectors, in that order,” Balaam said. “The conversations that have occurred in the past month and a half have not fallen on deaf ears. I hear the concerns of our residents, and it is my responsibility to mirror the needs of the community while keeping everyone safe.”

The Reno Police Department also today made the same announcement.

“It is important to note that some officer-involved shooting incidents involve multiple officers or multiple witnesses and investigations of those types of incidents are extremely time consuming,” Reno Police Officer Travis Warren said. ”In such incidents, the policy does allow for the release of footage to occur within 30 days in order to provide the investigating agency sufficient time to thoroughly conduct its investigation and to allow the Reno Police Department sufficient time to prepare the video for release.”

Update, 11 a.m.:

The Sparks Police Department released a similar announcement today.

“At all levels of government within the city of Sparks we have heard the call for increased transparency and we are working citywide to achieve that,” Sparks Police Chief Pete Krall said. “Moving forward, the Sparks Police Department will release relevant vehicle fleet or body worn camera video of officer-involved shooting incidents within 14 days. If we are unable to meet that timeframe we will make a public announcement detailing why, and with an expected timeframe for release.”

Krall added that there are some officer-involved shootings still in the review process that pre-date this new policy. The department will create briefings for the incidents and release video in the coming weeks, he said.

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