November 16, 2010

Major changes to inquest process leave some unsettled

Despite spearheading the panel to reform the coroner's inquest process, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak is uneasy about one of its recommendations. At issue? The ombudsman:

Sisolak said he agrees with most of the changes, but one in particular is a game-changer: the inclusion of an ombudsman to represent the family and the public during inquest proceedings.

“The ombudsman is changing the whole tenure of the situation,” Sisolak said. “That became a major issue and it didn’t get brought up until the third meeting. It’s such a major change that needed to be vetted a lot further.”

The ombudsman idea -- proposed by Sheriff Doug Gillespie -- was originally conceived as a position that would represent both the public and the police officers at the inquest process. However, potential conflicts of interest scaled that idea down, and the ombudsman would now only represent the family and the public while the police officers would maintain their own representatives.

Panel members Christopher Blakesley, a UNLV law professor, and Margaret McLetchie, an ACLU of Nevada attorney, both support the ombudsman position. Two of their panel colleagues, Police Protective Association executive director Chris Collins and District Attorney David Roger, both oppose it, feeling that the inquest process is merely a fact-finding venture and police officers should not have to endure a cross-examination on the stand.