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Video: Reno Police harassed and threatened homeless at sweep


This article contains language and video footage some may find disturbing.

Reno Police Officer Ryan Gott, by his own admission, wants those experiencing homelessness out of Reno. He was instrumental in kicking them out of a encampment near Wells Avenue on June 3, 2020.

At the time, it was alleged that he was bullying people and saying denigrating things to those living in the area. Video footage obtained by This Is Reno appears to substantiate these allegations. Those who have watched the video say they are mortified by RPD’s treatment of people at the encampment.

In the video, Gott is heard and shown barking orders at people, threatening to arrest a woman for not moving fast enough, saying all heroin dealers should be murdered and calling a journalist “Santa Claus.”

The footage is from his bodycam obtained by placing a public records order to RPD. It also shows RPD’s Lance Tindell, who at times tries to calm Gott and at other times chastises people at the site. Members of the city’s Mobile Outreach Safety Team don’t appear to intervene or disagree with what is happening.

Holly Welborn of the Nevada ACLU said the officers’ actions are “incredibly troubling” and “overtly aggressive.”

Kicking people out of their tents and not allowing them to retrieve personal property could be a violation of federal search and seizure laws, she said. Gott sticking his knife into the netting of an occupied tent, and slicing it open, is also particularly problematic, she added.

“When we were there observing with the news media earlier in the morning, of course everyone was on their best behavior. It’s clear that once we were kicked out, that changed,” she said.

ACLU volunteers were on site at an early morning cleanup of a homeless encampment in downtown Reno. Image: Eric Marks

Video came after complaint against officer

Gott’s presence at the encampment drew concern that day. In mid-April, more than two months prior to the camp sweep, a complaint had been filed against Gott to RPD for his online comments about unsheltered people.

Lisa Lee, who at that time ran the Foundation for Recovery, posted on Facebook a comment about Gov. Steve Sisolak’s COVID-19 directives. She said she thought Sisolak, who was following directives from Trump’s White House, was being thoughtful.

Gott wrote this in response: “Lisa Lee you are dumber than most thought… and THAT IS SAYING SOMETHING. The numbers along with Sisolak don’t add up. The curve has been flat for weeks in NV. This state needs to reopen at least partially. This state is dying and it’s morons like you keeping it that way. Load up as many homeless as you can and leave the state.”

Lee said that she felt threatened by his invective.

Gott posted a second comment saying he stands by his remarks. His comments, though, were later deleted.

Lisa Lee helps to serve lunch to people who were forced to move from a camp near Wells Ave. Image: Isaac Hoops

“These comments do not represent, or reflect the views of the Reno Police Department,”  Police Chief Jason Soto said at the time. “I will not comment on personnel matters.”

Gott is listed on RPD’s website as a Community Action Officer whose mission is “to reduce repeat calls for service which are a drain on patrol resources by long term problem solving solutions and techniques…”

Police berate, threaten people 

Lee said that she was then surprised to see Officer Gott at the Wells Avenue encampment more than two months later. Reno Police and city workers were there in the morning cleaning up the property. The property has been considered a public safety and health hazard by area officials. It has been the location of fires, sexual assault, a murder and repeated cleanups.

At some point on June 3, however, police ordered journalists and ACLU legal observers from the site. Many had already left, but journalists who arrived later were ordered off the site.

“I parked in an area where there was no signage at all that I could notice, and nothing preventing me from parking my car or driving through,” said Nico Colombant, a journalism instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who also publishes Our Town Reno. “There were no barriers, and they prevented me from taking pictures even from the public sidewalk.”

This Is Reno and KRNV were also prevented from accessing the site that day. Officers said the site was off limits for our “safety,” saying it’s a “rule.”

But they could not cite a specific law or city code that gave them the authority to remove people from the location. They repeatedly said the area was closed for “construction activity.” Chief Soto later apologized and said city’s communications officer would be at future cleanups.

“Stop talking and get your fucking stuff” 

The 56-minute video shows people trying to leave the site. It was clear they had advanced warning, but many still stayed behind. Some appear desperate to figure what to take out of numerous possessions.

Gott helps some, but he’s also shown threatening people, using his knife to cut into tents and yelling at people to leave the area.

Here are some timestamps:

Ben Castro of the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality, which operates Our Place, a shelter for women and children, said the officers’ actions undermine the city’s attempts to address Reno’s growing homeless population.

“It’s actions like the one from this Officer that undermine any good-faith efforts from the Reno Police Department that attempt to build community amongst the houseless population,” Castro said. “Interactions like these erode not only the public trust, but the trust that numerous service providers have established for months, sometimes years, with these neighbors.

“These types of behaviors have no place in the public service sphere, especially when it comes to vulnerable populations.”

Bodycam redactions questioned

RPD’s use of bodycams was also called into question, particularly the redaction of officer faces.

“Not sure why only the faces of police officers are blurred,” Colombant said of the video, which blurs only officer faces but not M.O.S.T. Team members, city staff or those inside their shelters and at the location.  

Welborn echoed Colombant’s concern. She said it appears law enforcement agencies are relying on one law that says officer photographs can only be made public with officer permission, but bodycam footage should not be redacted because of specific changes to Nevada Revised Statutes during the last legislative session.

“We specifically worked on this issue at the 2019 session of the Nevada Legislature,” she said. “We fought really hard for that. They should not be redacting officer faces at all.”

This Is Reno today requested RPD provide unredacted footage.

“Cold and cruel”

Lee called Gott’s actions calloused, cold and cruel.

“These statements  [in the video] are blatant displays of power that overshadow the tyranny of the moment these women are experiencing,” she said. “Not to mention slashing tents with his weapon — a blatant act of destruction of property, and when you’re experiencing homelessness, that’s all the property you have.”

“…Of course everyone was on their best behavior.
It’s clear that once we were kicked out, that changed.”

Lee said Reno Police should be trained by Sparks Police’s H.O.P.E. Team.

The team, announced in August by Sparks Police,  is designed to “create a repour [sic] and provide empathy, support and resources to those experiencing homelessness. For safety, the City has ordinances in place making it illegal to camp within 350 feet of the river. We can and do enforce these ordinances, However, engagement and education is always our first approach.”

Police Chief Soto would not comment on the homelesss sweep video. He has repeatedly said, however, that officers are expected to treat everyone the same — with respect.

“Anytime an issue [or] complaint is made towards the professionalism of any officer(s), the incident is addressed and/or investigated which was the case for the attached video,” he said.

He forwarded today further inquiry to the City Attorney’s office. This article may be updated if a response is received.

“Publicly paid staff are civil servants, and I expect them to be held to a high standard of conduct and decorum,” Lee said after watching the video. “Law enforcement officers need to be trained in diversity, power inequality and working with marginalized populations — continuously — to ensure they are treating all citizens respectfully and that they practice integrity.”

After the April complaint and June incident, the Reno Police Department in September praised Gott online and gave him an award.

“Deputy Chief Robinson and HomeDepot wanted to thank Officer Ryan Gott for catching an individual responsible for more than $15,000 worth of product loss during a commercial burglary,” the department tweeted. “Excellent work Ryan!”

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.