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Police refuse to release information, video of a man they shot and killed in 2020

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Sparks and Reno police officers shot and killed Abel Lopez-Lopez, 37, in February of 2020. Little information about why has been released to the public.

Despite a mid-2020 protocol requiring law enforcement agencies to release body-cam video footage of police shootings within 14 days, videos of Lopez-Lopez’ death have never been released. 

The incident occurred under a prior rule, according to Sparks Police Chief Chris Crawforth. The Sparks Police Department has twice denied public records requests for bodycam footage of the incident. 

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, which allegedly investigated the shooting as the lead agency, has not responded to a public records request about the shooting that was filed by This Is Reno two weeks ago. Nevada law requires a response within five business days.

TV news sources, and the RGJ, regurgitated information from police at the time of the incident. Lopez-Lopez was alleged to have been holding a woman and a knife in what was described as a “possible hostage situation” at a Sparks apartment complex.

No follow-up reporting could be found about Lopez-Lopez’ death.

Agencies point fingers

A representative of the Washoe County Medical Examiners would only release basic information about how he died.

“For Abel Lopez-Lopez, the manner of death was homicide. The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds,” Justin Norton said. 

When asked how many gunshot wounds, he wouldn’t say.

“I cannot release the report or any additional details until the Washoe County District Attorney closes their investigation into the matters,” he said. 

But a Washoe County District Attorney’s office official said the DA does not mandate other agencies withhold such records before their office publishes reports.

Sparks Police Chief Chris Crawforth.
Sparks Police Chief Chris Crawforth.

“In cases where there is not an active prosecution, we do not mandate, encourage or require agencies to do this,” said Michelle Bays with the DA’s office. 

She said the delay in the Lopez-Lopez case is because of short staffing.

“This case came in in parts across several months early last year,” Bays said. “We have had it in the office for several months, with a significant delay in beginning the review. 

“This is entirely our responsibility, as it is not our ideal but happened due to workload and staffing issues. Given there was no associated prosecution, we absolutely should have completed this by now.”

The DA’s office would not provide information about any of Lopez-Lopez’ family members.

“As for the victim information, perhaps the [Medical Examiner’s] office would be a source,” Bays added. “We do not provide victim contact information.”

The ME’s Norton said he could not release any more information.

“As you probably know, the DA investigates all officer-involved shooting deaths and publishes reports, when concluded,” he said. “Until that is done (or the case is fully adjudicated, if charges are filed) I am unable to provide anything else.”

Sparks Chief Crawforth this week told This Is Reno the city won’t release the video footage of Lopez-Lopez’ killing until the DA’s office clears the case.

He said that when the incident occurred, law enforcement agencies were operating under a protocol that allowed body-cam footage releases only after the DA cleared the case. The new protocol in mid-2020 changed that to 14 days, Crawforth said.

But when Miciah Lee was killed by Sparks Police, also in early 2020 and before Lopez-Lopez, body-cam video footage of the incident was published a few months later. The DA ruled the shooting as justified. Lee’s family recently settled a civil lawsuit against Sparks for $2 million. Mandatory training for officers in mental health and crisis intervention was also part of the settlement.

When asked if police could release the Lopez-Lopez’ body-cam footage, Bays would not say. 

“We do not have oversight or authority over their decisions,” she said.

She also said there is no estimate of when Lopez-Lopez’s case would be finalized.

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.

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