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Sixth rally against killings by police officers held downtown (photos)

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By Bob Conrad & Mark Hernandez | Photos by Mark Hernandez

The number of people killed by law enforcement in Washoe County has a long history, and a group gathered Saturday said not enough is being done to curb killings by police.

Organizers of the sixth annual gathering of families impacted by police violence are asking for an independent investigation into local law enforcement agencies.

Annemarie Grant, who formed Impacted Families, led the demonstration with more than 30 people in front of downtown’s Bruce Thompson federal building and courthouse. 

“I lost my brother in 2015. He was hog-tied during a mental health crisis and asphyxiated to death,” she said. 

The Nevada Legislature in 2021 passed a bill that gives the Attorney General the power to investigate any state agency that may be committing constitutional violations, Grant added.

She wants that law to be used to investigate local police agencies and the district attorney’s office. 

“We are here today because we want Attorney General Aaron Ford to open an investigation into the Sparks Police, Washoe County’s Sheriff’s Office, Reno Police and the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office for their pattern and practice of violating constitutional rights,” Grant said.

Most of those at the demonstration lost someone in a police shooting. They said the law enforcement officers who killed their loved ones were never held to account. 

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks has never ruled against a law enforcement officer in a police killing. Some of those killings, however, had resulted in massive legal settlements and new, required training for police.

The family of Miciah Lee, who was killed by Sparks Police in 2020, settled with police for $2 million. Lee had been experiencing a mental health crisis, threatening suicide-by-cop, and his mom called police to tell them that. 

When police encountered Lee driving, they were unsuccessful in stopping him. Police alleged they saw Lee with a gun. They shot him. Two Sparks police chiefs said the first officer to encounter Lee failed to follow his training.

Hicks, however, determined Lee’s killing was justified.

A research study in The Lancet from 2021 found that many police killings are underreported.

“US police are heavily militarised, and fatal police violence disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic people. Police are trained that any interaction can turn deadly and that they should react as such,” the researchers noted. “Heavily armed officers can dangerously escalate situations that never needed violent intervention.”

The researchers said police killings are a public health crisis and called for better training.

Grant said having an external investigation that has no connection to law enforcement would be impartial and improve transparency. When asked about what the response has been from the A.G.’s office, she said Aaron Ford has responded only with silence.

 “For the last two years, dead silence,” Grant said. “There’s been no response to any entreaty sent to him regarding this issue.”

According to Grant, there have also been increasing problems for those incarcerated at the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office jail, especially the mental health wing. 

She said issues include having human feces in their cells, freezing temperatures and exaggerated use of restraints. 

This Is Reno recently reported that jail overcrowding is a concern among local officials, and “there’s no end in sight” to the growing occupancy at the detention center. 

In her brother’s case, Grant said her family was never told what happened to him other than saying he stopped breathing on his own after “acting crazy.” 

But when a video was released to the family two years after his death, Grant saw what really happened to her brother, Thomas Purdy. 

Reno Police had hog-tied Purdy, and he was killed by sheriff’s deputies who pinned him to the floor while he was restrained.

Purdy had been arrested after being trespassed from a casino while on methamphetamine. Washoe County commissioners in 2018 settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Purdy’s family for $100,000. 

The family argued sheriff’s deputies used excessive force “and showed deliberate indifference to his medical needs,” according to reporting by the RGJ. Purdy repeatedly told deputies he could not breathe. 

The Peppermill casino and Reno Police Department also settled with Purdy’s family for another $75,000.

Grant frequently testifies at local government meetings. She repeatedly requests more accountability and investigations into police violence. Local officials ignore her.

On Saturday, after chanting at the intersection all the names of the people they have lost, the group continued sharing their stories to keep alive the memory of those lost. 

Some said they have been attending the rally for years.

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