Police: Miscommunication led to fatal shooting of fugitive who ignored 24 commands
In the days that followed, authorities learned that the fugitive was not wanted for attempted murder
By Sally Ho
LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas police got a call from U.S. marshals on New Year's Eve asking for help arresting an armed fugitive wanted for attempted murder. Within moments, the suspect, Keith Childress, a 23-year-old father of two, had been shot five times by police and later died.
In the days that followed, authorities learned that Childress was not wanted for attempted murder and had been carrying a cellphone, not a weapon.
The revelations have raised concerns about miscommunication and decision-making in the police department that has already been under fire for its use of deadly force.
Las Vegas undersheriff Kevin McMahill called the death of Childress a tragedy that could impact how his department relays information and provides assistance to other agencies.
"You all are very familiar with much of the challenges that we've had as an organization in the past," he told reporters after the death of Childress. "We endeavor to ensure that we learn as much as we can from each and every one of these incidents in the hope that we never repeat it again."
Childress was the second unarmed person shot and killed by Las Vegas police in the past two years.
Other high-profile shootings prompted the U.S. Justice Department to begin working in 2012 with Las Vegas police to address officers' use of deadly force. The review led to a number of training reforms, including how to de-escalate a high-stakes encounter to avoid errors and fatalities.
Still, authorities say a series of miscommunications led to the killing of Childress.
McMahill said police were initially told that Childress had fled from a vehicle with a gun inside. It turned out the gun legally belonged to the driver, not Childress.
Dispatchers also told responding police officers that federal marshals were seeking Childress on a warrant for attempted murder. It was later learned that he was actually sought for missing a court appearance in Phoenix involving convictions on armed robbery and aggravated assault counts.
Further concerns were raised when Childress concealed one of his hands when he was approached by police.
Javier Jimenez, assistant chief deputy U.S. marshal in Las Vegas, declined to discuss the case.
A police body camera video released in the case showed that Childress did not respond to veteran police Sgt. Robert Bohanon and first-year Officer Blake Walford when they ordered him to drop his gun and not approach them.
The scene played out over two minutes, ending with the officers shooting Childress after yelling out more than two dozen commands. No shots were fired by the two armed U.S. marshals at the scene.
Brad Reinhart, an attorney for Childress in the Phoenix case, said Childress was not a violent person, though his crimes were serious.
"Keith was not listening to the commands to not approach but there was a lot going on, including one officer telling him to drop a weapon he didn't have," the lawyer said about the video. "From what I saw, Keith appeared to be surrendering and did not appear to be a threat."
An internal investigation is underway and a decision on whether the shooting was justified will be made by the Clark County district attorney's office, a process that usually takes about a year.
"Anytime an unarmed individual is shot, in today's environment, it's a big deal," McMahill said.
Childress' mother, Jacqueline Lawrence, wouldn't discuss her son's death but said the family has retained Dale Galipo, an attorney who has handled high-profile police shooting and brutality cases in Southern California. He didn't return calls or emails seeking comment.
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