Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Last Thing This City Needs...

On Thursday, Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen (D) sought to put the city's best foot forward in his State of the City Address. Was it too late? Earlier this week, outrage broke out over this. And due to the violence in the video below, viewer discretion is definitely advised.

The City of Henderson markets itself as "A Place to Call Home". But after watching this video, I must admit I feel less proud of calling this place home.

One of the videos shows [Adam] Greene swerving as he drives east on Lake Mead [Parkway] for about three minutes until he stops for a red light at Boulder Highway. At that point, a trooper gets out with his service weapon pointed at the driver, who is still seated. The trooper kicks the window with his foot.

“Don’t move! Hey driver, do not move!” the trooper says. “Hands up!”

A trooper opens Greene’s door, and four officers — troopers and Henderson police — pull him out of the car.

A series of commands follows: “Get on the ground! Stop resisting, (expletive), stop resisting (expletive)!”

Greene groans as four law enforcement officers push him onto the pavement and, joined by a fifth, restrain and handcuff him. At that point, a Henderson police officer walks into camera view, steps up to Greene and kicks him five times in the head, twice with his left foot, three more with his right. The officer then walks away nonchalantly, and turns briefly toward the direction of the [Nevada Highway Patrol] NHP cruiser whose camera is pointed his way.

With Greene subdued on the ground, an officer searches his pockets and finds a vial of insulin and announces it to everyone, looking up to the sky.

“He could be a diabetic,” he says.

“Yeah, I see that,” someone answers.

Someone else says to a dispatcher over the radio: “He’s a diabetic. He’s probably in shock, semiconscious.” [Emphasis mine.]

Both the city and the state should be thanking their lucky stars that they are settling this law suit for only $292,000. Greene may have been able to get more after a full trial. And frankly, he probably deserves it after being kicked to the head so brutally, and being kicked simply because he was experiencing diabetic shock.

And now, more questions are arising as to why the city didn't respond more quickly to this, and why Henderson's City Council was apparently left in the dark. Coolican dedicated his Sun column today to this growing scandal, and he seemed genuinely baffled by how Henderson does business.

A problem I had reporting this story Friday is that Henderson takes Fridays off. How Greek. (OK, to be fair, they work four 10-hour shifts.) Hafen didn’t return a message to his home. The police spokesman told me the chief was off.

[Ward 1 Council Member Gerri] Schroder said when she saw the video Monday she was “shocked” and “disappointed” and then happy to learn that Henderson Police “used this incident to further train officers to ensure this does not happen again.”

I asked if she had talked to [Jutta] Chambers, the police chief, about discipline meted out to [Sgt. Brett] Seekatz [one of the offending officers]. Or about disciplinary procedures more generally. Or about whether the officer is still interacting with the public.

Schroder said the city charter prohibits her from interfering in personnel matters. She’s right, and for good reason: We don’t want part-time city council members meddling and micromanaging. The council supervises the city clerk, city attorney and city manager.

But she can’t even ask questions?

OK, Coolican. Let me explain what's going on.

For some time now, Henderson has shut down city offices on Fridays to save money. Yes, it's actually about saving money... Not being "Greek". If folks here are genuinely angered by this, then we need to be willing to pay more taxes if we want an open-5-days-a-week city hall.

And in regards to Gerri Schroder being reluctant to meddle in police affairs, this can't be pinned on just her. The entire culture of Henderson City Hall has been about a smooth and very trusting relationship between the city council and city staff. Usually, this results in positive developments. While the rest of the valley has been rocked by local governments waging war against public workers, Henderson has managed to negotiate staff reductions and "employee buyouts" with the public worker unions. And while other local governments have become accustomed to complaints of being non-responsive to citizen requests, Henderson has pioneered ways to make government more accessible (such as the city's iPhone app).

However, not everyone has always been happy with this attitude at city hall. During the Pittman Wash concretization controversy last year, I heard several complaints about how City of Henderson Public Works often seemed to keep everyone else in the dark over its internal workings, as well as its unwillingness to take constructive criticism and the council's past willingness to go along with virtually whatever Public Works proposed. I remember the Wednesday night public hearing on concretization back in July and how Public Works seemed to show a tin ear to the public's demands.

I paid attention to what city engineers were saying. I listened as they were building their case for concretization.

I then asked them one important question, a question they would continue to be asked all evening. "Have you considered the alternatives?" Interestingly enough, the only options they ever considered were a trapezoidal concrete channel and a rectangular concrete channel. So all along, the only options they've cared to look at are concrete and even more concrete.

Thankfully, that seemed to be the low point that led to some needed rethinking on that whole affair. After several weeks of more negotiation with Project GREEN, along with Mayor Andy Hafen and Ward 4 Council Member Sam Bateman showing interest in a compromise that all sides can live with, Henderson Public Works ultimately agreed to building a less environmentally intrusive arch culvert at the UPRR railroad crossing. Construction is set to begin later this year, along with revegetation of the wash near Valle Verde Drive that was part of last year's deal with Project GREEN.

So perhaps there's hope for the police department, as well. While city officials often pride themselves in keeping Henderson's "small town feel", we can no longer deny that we're becoming a big city... And a big city with all those "big city problems" that Las Vegas has already become accustomed to grappling with. Especially since The R-J began its series examining Metro Police shootings, Las Vegas and Clark County have had to ask tough questions on why the authorities who are supposed to protect the community have caused the greater community to ask for protection FROM them.

I hope the City of Henderson doesn't wait until The R-J or Sun does a series on its struggles with police brutality before taking decisive action to curb this abuse of our own people. The police department is obviously in need of more public oversight. The city again needs to pay attention to the people living here and allow for independent review of the police department so we can see what needs to be done to fix the department and restore trust in local law enforcement.

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