Carson City Sheriff Kenneth Furlong spoke with This Is Reno concerning two incidents that took place during last Saturday’s protest in front of the Capitol in Carson City–the accidental discharge of a single round from a semi-automatic rifle, and an altercation between a protester and a driver in a crosswalk.
Tensions at protests have become increasingly high as both protesters and counter-protesters have been bringing their firearms to demonstrations. But Furlong said the presence of large, divided groups was not what spurred the incident.
“Well, that’s not an absolute truth because there weren’t many people down there, counter-protesters, this weekend. There wasn’t hardly any, as a matter of fact,” he said. “Up to this weekend, I have believed that all sides have been very, very cooperative with us. We have been able to scale down our attention because of the cooperative nature…That being said, confrontations on the street are not going to be tolerated—zero.”
While Furlong said cooperation between various demonstration groups and law enforcement—and groups policing themselves—over the last four weeks had allowed Carson City Sheriff’s Office to scale down its involvement at demonstrations, he added that people “carrying guns are obviously generating an enormous concern” for him. He noted that policing the demonstrations has also cost extra taxpayer money.
“I would estimate for you that every event, where it’s a sizable event…it can run up to about $10,000 a day in extra costs,” he said.
Furlong added that circumstances outside of the department’s control arising from both local and national events during the last few weeks have caused a re-escalation in tensions, but said he did not want to speak to those events at length.
“And this incident this weekend—I think we have a fairy godmother over us,” Furlong said. “That could have turned into an absolutely chaotic tragedy, and it should never have happened. Had there been a normal demonstration Saturday—and when I say normal, I mean sizable with both sides and so on and so forth—that could have turned into a shootout. One person fires a round, and all bets are off. It turns into chaos.”
Furlong noted that he and the officers in his department don’t have “a responsibility, nor even probably an authority to go around” and do gun checks with armed citizens attending protests.
He also said while Nevada is an open carry state, he wants people not to press the matter.
“Don’t push it,” he said. “Yes, it is open carry—but those who are open carrying are pushing the limits. And we knew that coming into this weekend. But you get these extreme open-carry people, and somebody has an accidental discharge such as this one, and all hell can break loose.”
Furlong said that in response to the discharge incident and rising tensions at protests, the Sheriff’s Office has discussed at length what it will do with regard to upcoming demonstrations.
“I am not happy with what happened—and we are looking at our approach tactics very, very carefully here to consider if we need to take a stance with the City and say, ‘Hey, you know what? This is out of control. We don’t have a safe environment,” he explained.
He said he was not sure what the outcome of talks with the City might yield, but added, “I am not taking the responsibility of somebody having an accidental discharge or an intentional one, OK? We’re law enforcement. If you break the law, we will act on it.”
Furlong noted that he thought the protester who accidentally fired his weapon had acted responsibly in his actions following the discharge by immediately putting the gun down and cooperating with officers. The protester was not taken into custody, though his gun was confiscated by officers. Furlong said legal action to be taken against the protester will be dependent upon the Carson City District Attorney’s office.
He also noted that video footage would aid in any decisions and that his office had “complete video coverage” of the incident.
Protester in crosswalk cited
Video footage is also available of the incident that involved a pedestrian and a driver. The pedestrian told media present at the protest that she’d been crossing the street when a driver who was with a caravan of Trump supporters rolled into the crosswalk and bumped her with the front of her vehicle before proceeding to turn her wheel toward her and rapidly accelerate, hitting her with the front bumper and knocking her to the ground.
This Is Reno followed up to learn why the pedestrian, not the driver, was cited following the incident. The Carson City Sheriff’s Office confirmed Monday that the pedestrian was cited for failure to yield, according to Nevada Revised Statute 484B.283. Furlong said traffic camera footage was used to determine that the pedestrian was at fault and provided it for review.
The footage shows the pedestrian stepping briskly into the crosswalk between two vehicles traveling in the caravan without stopping to look both ways or to allow the cars time to stop. In the video, brake lights can be seen on the vehicle the pedestrian stepped in front of.
After making it past the front bumper on the driver’s side of the vehicle, the pedestrian turned back toward it–raising her arms and appearing to shout at the driver. The driver began to turn slightly to the right before turning back to the left and toward the center of the road to avoid hitting a man who can be seen running out into the street and toward the pedestrian.
“She did not get hit by the front of the vehicle,” Furlong said of the pedestrian. “And if you didn’t get hit by the front of the vehicle, how could the vehicle hit you? Because vehicles don’t go sideways.”
Furlong said he has paid attention to demonstrations in other parts of the country that have ended in people being seriously injured or killed. In the last week, demonstrators have been killed during protests in Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said he’s glad that was not the outcome in Carson City last weekend but that he’s nonetheless still concerned about local protests.
“It’s sad to say that this weekend really has forced me to take a step back and say, ‘Do we need to throw on extra, additional measures?’” Furlong said. “We’re reviewing all of our plans and our approaches to make sure and to include, if I may—not to overreact to this—we want to make sure that we go into next weekend appropriately… All in all, everybody’s putting us law enforcement in a very precarious position.”
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.