Hands-On Accountability for the Police Murder of Stanley Gibson
Stanley Gibson, a disabled Gulf War veteran, was murdered in a Las Vegas parking lot last December 12. He was shot seven times in the back of the head, without provocation, by a stranger wielding an AR-15 rifle. The killer, 34-year-old Jesus Arevalo, remains at large and is easy to find: He’s an officer with the Las Vegas Metro Police.
Gibson was unarmed. He was not a criminal suspect and posed no threat to anybody. His killing was a clear and unmistakable case of criminal homicide. Yet Arevalo has not been charged with a crime. He is on an extended vacation called “administrative leave,” during which he continues to collect his taxpayer-funded salary and benefits.
Meanwhile, Gibson’s widow, Rhonda, has been left all but penniless. Her husband was a fully disabled combat veteran of the first Gulf War who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and cancer – the latter affliction most likely a result of prolonged exposure to depleted uranium. Over the past several years, Gibson’s disability benefits were consistently reduced and cut off entirely shortly before he was murdered by Arevalo.
The day before he was shot, Gibson – whose anti-anxiety medication had been cut off two weeks earlier by the Veterans Administration — suffered a breakdown. According to Rhonda, “He didn’t know where he was and didn’t know what he was doing.”
The police were called after Stanley wound up in the front yard screaming at cars and “causing a scene.” Claiming that Stanley had taken a “fighting stance,” the officers arrested him for “resisting arrest” and booked him at the Las Vegas Detention Center. Although they informed Rhonda that Stanley would be placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold, he was released within eight hours.
The following morning, Gibson called 911 twice to ask for medical help. He eventually drove to a nearby hospital, but left without receiving treatment. At about 9:30 that evening he called Rhonda to tell her he was parked outside their apartment complex – but he was nowhere to be seen.
Stanley had actually pulled into the parking lot of a condominium next door. She wouldn’t learn about what happened to her husband until seeing a news report of the shooting — and recognizing his white Cadillac.
Eyewitnesses recalled that Gibson drove slowly through the lot as if he was lost and confused. At the time, Arevalo and three other officers were at the condo responding to a call from a resident regarding a suspected break-in. Although they had no reason to consider Gibson as a suspect, they surrounded the vehicle and penned it in between several squad cars. Disoriented and frightened, Gibson gunned his engine and spun his wheels—but there was nowhere he could go.
For about a half hour, the officers tried to get Gibson to leave the car. During that period they should have been able to run his license plate and identify the driver. They should have recognized that they were dealing with a sick and confused man, and contacted a crisis intervention team. They should have gotten in touch with his wife, who lived less than a block away. They should have simply waited for Gibson to calm down.
The officers did none of those things. Instead, they chose to escalate the encounter by devising a plan to force him from his car: One officer would shoot out a window with a beanbag round, and another would incapacitate him with pepper spray. After the window was shattered, Officer Jesus Arevalo modified the plan by shooting Gibson seven times in the back of head with his AR-15 rifle.
Arevalo, who has a lengthy history of citizen complaints and official reprimands, was given the customary 72 hours to work out his story with the help of a police union attorney. He was then placed on paid vacation. Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, who supervises the Metro Police, initially claimed that the shooting was justified because Gibson supposedly threatened the officers by using his car as a “battering ram” – a claim that disintegrated after the emergence of a private video documenting that Gibson’s car was stationary when Arevalo murdered him.
There is some unbearably sinister symmetry in the way Stanley Gibson was murdered by agents of the Government. As a U.S. Army cook in Kuwait, Gibson was assigned to clear away what remained of the tens of thousands of Iraqis slaughtered in the “Highway of Death.”
During the First Gulf War, shortly after Saddam Hussein announced the complete withdrawal of his forces from Kuwait, U.S. and allied forces attacked a convoy headed back into Iraq.
Following airstrikes that disabled vehicles at the front and rear of the column, a prolonged assault with incendiary weapons and depleted uranium rounds was undertaken. A sixty-mile stretch of highway was left littered with the hulls of about 2,000 vehicles and the charred remnants of tens of thousands of human beings — helpless, retreating soldiers, as well as civilians who had been caught in the traffic jam.
Gibson spent several days picking through the reeking rubble and disposing of the dead. In one of the ruined vehicles he found the mortal residue of a mother and child who had been melted together when their car was struck by an incendiary bomb.
The exposure to depleted uranium rounds quite likely was responsible for the cancer that forced Gibson to undergo a half-dozen operations and left his face partially paralyzed. Immersion in the horrific aftermath of that atrocity irreparably wounded Gibson’s mind and soul. He had no way of knowing that a little more than twenty years later, armed agents of the same Government that had penned in and slaughtered the helpless Iraqis would do exactly the same thing to him in a Las Vegas parking lot.
Rhonda Gibson blames the VA for the death of her husband. Originally classified as 100 percent disabled, Gibson had seen the VA arbitrarily re-classify him, alter his diagnosis, and change his treatment regimen. Last October 24, during an appointment at the local VA office, Gibson “aggressively confronted” an agency doctor about the capricious cutbacks in his cancer treatment. He was arrested by security officers and eventually pleaded guilty to “assaulting a federal employee” – by raising his voice in frustration over the fact that the government he had served was killing him through malicious neglect.
The couple’s financial situation worsened with each of the agency’s reductions in benefits. In November 2011, the couple lost their home and moved into an apartment next to the condominium where Gibson was killed. Now that Stanley is gone, Rhonda is both emotionally devastated and financially destitute.
Righteously furious over this state of affairs, Steven Sanson, retired Marine and president of Veterans in Politics International, seeks to organize a charity fundraiser: He has challenged Arevalo – who is a former competitive amateur fighter — to a refereed mixed martial arts match, with most of the proceeds going to Gibson’s widow. Sanson hopes to hold the event on 12-12-12 – the anniversary of Stanley Gibson’s murder.
Arevalo, who was as bold as Hector when drawing a bead on the back of an unarmed man’s head, has no appetite for throwing down with someone who can actually fight back. There is no such thing as “qualified immunity” in the Octagon; Arevalo wouldn’t be able to call for backup, nor would he be able to press charges for “obstruction,” “disorderly conduct,” or “resisting arrest.” The referee wouldn’t give Arevalo special advantages, and impose restrictions on his opponent, in the name of “officer safety.” If the bout went the distance, the police union wouldn’t be able to influence the decision rendered by the judges.
Not surprisingly, Arevalo has made himself scarce.
“There are many reasons why I’m trying to organize this event,” Sanson told Pro Libertate. “First of all, there’s a grieving wife who has been left without income of any kind and who is literally wasting away. Rhonda approves of the idea – in fact, she’d love to get in the ring with Arevalo herself, even though she’s down to less than one hundred pounds.”
“Secondly, I think this would help promote awareness of the desperate need for policy and personnel changes at the Metro Police Department,” Sanson continues. “It would also help focus attention on the problems suffered by many returning veterans, some of whom may appear physically healthy but who have psychological problems and deserve much better treatment than they’re getting. I also want to build public support for revamping the current policies regarding officer-involved shootings. Las Vegas has seen far too many shootings of this kind in recent years, yet the official inquiries always exonerate the shooter, no matter how absurd his story or obvious it is that it was a bad shoot.”
Until two years ago, officer-involved shootings were investigated through a County Coroner Inquest, a non-adversarial procedure described by former Nevada District Court Judge Don Chairez as “a search for justification of an officer’s actions.” Attorney Adam Lagomarsino refers to the County Coroner Inquest procedure as “a kangaroo court and a dog and pony show.”
Lagomarsino filed a lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metro Police on behalf of the family of Lavon Cole – an unarmed man who was gunned down in his bathroom by a uniformed serial killer named Detective Bryan Yant. Cole, who had been targeted for a narcotics sting by the Metro Police, was trying to dispose of roughly an ounce of marijuana – a quantity insufficient to sustain a misdemeanor possession charge in Nevada.
The raid on Cole’s home was staged for a film crew employed by Langley Productions – the loathsome outfit responsible for the police-porn series “COPS.” Playing to the camera, Yant had brought along his AR-15 rifle, which was unnecessary for an operation targeting a mild-mannered non-violent offender. After bursting into the bathroom, Yant shot Cole in the back while his pregnant girlfriend was pinned to the floor in the next room with a gun to her head.
In addition to a previous shooting under very similar circumstances, Yant had compiled a record of corruption, dishonesty, and criminal misconduct. His version of the Cole shooting — in which the victim supposedly made a “furtive” movement that left the heroic detective in “fear for my life” – was impossible to reconcile with the forensic evidence. Naturally, he was exonerated by the Coroner’s Inquest.
The inquest procedure was introduced in 1969. Between 1976 and 2010, more than two hundred lethal force incidents were examined by a seven-member jury. Only one of them was ruled “negligent” — and that decision was overturned on appeal. This isn’t a surprising result, given that the inquest procedure was a collegial exercise: The D.A.’s office literally choreographed the questioning with the police department prior to the hearing.
Attorney Lagomarsino points out that no cross-examination of police officers was permitted during the inquest. “We were allowed to submit written questions, one at a time, to the prosecutor, but we couldn’t cross-examine Yant” or even ask follow-up questions, he told Pro Libertate in an August 2010 interview. The prosecutors didn’t even bother to present a summation for the jury. At the conclusion of the inquest into the Trevon Cole shooting, notes former District Judge Chairez, it appeared that the judge “was almost asking for a directed verdict.”
Five days before Stanley Gibson was murdered, the Clark County Commission passed an ordinance to reform the Coroner’s Inquest process by including a representative of the victim’s family and making key evidence available to the public. This prompted a protest by the city’s largest criminal lobby – the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which instructed its members to stop cooperating with the inquests altogether. On June 21, the police union filed a petition for a writ of prohibition against the revised inquest – the most recent of several legal challenges it has filed to prevent the system from being implemented.
“This process is no longer fair to our officers,” sniveled union spokesperson Chris Collins, whining that the revamped arrangement wasn’t a “fair and level playing field.” Bear in mind that police officers were still immune to cross-examination, and the inquest jury was still prohibited from handing down an indictment.
The DA’s Office remains disinclined to pursue grand jury investigations of police homicides. Accordingly, the only “accountability” for Metro officers who kill while on the clock is that provided by the department’s “Force Investigation Team.”
Although he is on congenial terms with Sheriff Gillespie and other key officials, Steve Sannon isn’t willing to countenance their self-serving corruption – and he says that he knows more than a few police officers who share his opinions.
“There are law enforcement officers who have expressed concerns to me about bad leadership at Metro,” Sannon told Pro Libertate. “I’ve even had a few of them call me and tell me they’d love to see me in the ring with Arevalo, who’s considered a cocky jerk.”
Sannon says that sponsors are lining up to promote the event. There is no institutional or legal impediment to the proposed fight. In fact, an active-duty police officer participated in the June 11 Rogue Warrior Cage Fighting Championships at the Cannery Casino, which raised money for the Stars and Stripes Foundation.
“There’s no reason why Arevalo, who was a fighter before becoming a cop, couldn’t take part in this event,” Sannon observes. That is to say, there’s no reason apart from cowardice and (what’s much the same thing) a bad conscience. In any case, Sannon isn’t going to relent in his efforts to impose hands-on accountability for the murder of Stanley Gibson by calling out a police officer who is protected by a system permitting him to kill without consequences.