December 9, 2010

Changes to coroner's inquest process approved

On Tuesday, the county commissioners approved controversial changes to the coroner's inquest process despite a disagreeing on the merits of including an ombudsmen in the plan:

Clark County commissioners on Tuesday approved major changes to the coroner’s inquest process that looks into deaths caused by police officers.

Commissioners voted 4-2 to support changes recommended by a 10-member panel that looked into the process last month.

Commissioners Larry Brown and Steve Sisolak voted against the ordinance. Commissioner Tom Collins was absent.

Most of nearly three hours of public testimony on the changes was focused on the addition of an ombudsperson to represent the decedent’s family during the inquest hearings, and Brown and Sisolak said they supported all of the changes except the ombudsperson.

Police officers and their union representatives said they wouldn’t participate in the inquests if the ombudsperson was present because it would make the proceedings adversarial.

Commissioner Sisolak wished more time had been spent considering the ombudsman idea. Yet, as the story notes, it was Sisolak who launched the panel and set the timeline for the meetings. If he didn't think enough time had been spent on the ombudsman idea, he should have asked for more meetings.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie supported the changes -- including the ombudsman -- believing that the inquest process will eventually find a way to accommodate both the victim's family and the officers.

Chris Collins, executive director for the Police Protective Association, blasted the changes, however, and warned that police officers would refuse to participate in an "adversarial" inquest process.

Police officers who spoke during the meeting said they would invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination under the new inquest rules.

Although the commissioners passed the changes, the controversy may be only beginning.