LAS VEGAS — A Las Vegas police officer has been fired for policy violations for fatally shooting an unarmed Gulf War veteran in a vehicle in a chaotic scene in December 2011 that sparked calls for reforms in departmental use-of-force policies.
Jesus Arevalo was dismissed after Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie upheld findings by an in-house review panel that Arevalo "lacked the ability to make sound decisions in situations routinely faced by police officers," a department statement said Wednesday.
Arevalo, 36, a Las Vegas police officer for more than 11 years, had been on paid leave for the 22 months since the shooting death of Stanley Gibson.
His dismissal Tuesday was believed to be a first for the department — at least since the Las Vegas police and Clark County sheriff departments merged 40 years ago. Gillespie has said he couldn't recall another officer ever being fired for an on-duty shooting.
The shooting spurred calls by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for a federal Justice Department investigation. Instead, officials from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program conducted a review of departmental use-of-force policies.
A COPS official last month credited Las Vegas police with upgrading training, keeping better track of how and when officers use deadly force, and instituting a pilot program to put cameras on the uniforms of some officers.
Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, declined Wednesday to comment on Arevalo's dismissal.
Gibson's widow, Rondha Gibson, didn't immediately respond to a message through a spokesman.
Her lawyer in a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the department said Arevalo's dismissal for policy violations was justified, but wouldn't change the lawsuit asking a judge to address police supervisory mistakes and poor planning.
"It is what we were hoping would occur, unfortunately it was for different issues from the ones involved in our case," attorney Cal Potter told The Associated Press. "It was all just a recipe for disaster, the way they handled it."
Gibson remained locked in his car for more than an hour at a northwest Las Vegas apartment complex, with his car pinned between two police cruisers as officers with weapons drawn commanded him to surrender. Gibson's spinning tires generated billows of acrid blue smoke before Arevalo opened fire with an assault-style rifle.
A grand jury refused to indict officers in the case, and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson determined in April that mistakes were made, but no criminal charges would be filed against Arevalo.
The DA issued a report saying Arevalo thought he was shooting in self-defense when he heard another officer fire a beanbag shotgun to break a side window of Gibson's vehicle. Police said they didn't know Gibson was unarmed, and had planned to inject pepper spray through the space to force him to surrender.
Gibson, who suffered from severe anxiety and depression, had shown signs of mental distress in the 36 hours before the fatal encounter. He was jailed briefly on a resisting police charge, found wandering in a street, taken to a Las Vegas hospital for a psychiatric evaluation and released with instructions to check back two days later.
Rondha Gibson said he may have become disoriented driving home.
He was shot in an apartment complex near where they used to live.
In September, Community Oriented Policing Services said the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had addressed or completed all but nine of 80 reforms called for in a report the agency made public almost a year ago. A final COPS report is expected next year.
After peaking at 25 shootings in 2010, Las Vegas police were involved in 17 officer-involved shootings in 2011 and 11 in 2012, including four fatal cases.
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press