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Philip Singer Attorney - Las Vegas Review Journal Feature

Hidden records expose federal shooting in desert, flawed Metro investigation.

By Arthur Kane Las Vegas Review-Journal

In the remote desert northeast of Las Vegas, four federal officers faced a speeding pickup filled with suspected car thieves. Two officers drew their guns, yet never fired.

But a Bureau of Land Management trainee, stationed high on a hillside as a lookout, fired eight shots from an AR-15 into the stolen 2000 tan Chevrolet Silverado. Five bullets hit the back of the truck after it appeared to veer away from a police vehicle and went off the road into a deep flood wash, landing on its side. The bullets killed Greg Davis Sr., 52, and injured the two other suspected thieves. All had extensive criminal histories. Cody Negrette, the trainee who had worked for the BLM only a few months, is heard on bodycam video saying: “I hit all three of ’em.”

The detailed events of that March day are only now public because a source concerned about the lethal shooting and subsequent probe of the confrontation provided exclusive investigative records and hours of officers’ bodycam video to the Review-Journal.

Previously, BLM released just three short sentences to the media on March 23 — the extent of information made public. No briefing was held on the officer-involved shooting.

Policing experts, who reviewed the documents and some of the video at the newspaper’s request, say the records reveal a questionable use of force and a flawed Metro Force Investigation Team review. Davis’ family and friends say mistakes were made.

In the ensuing months, BLM and Metro officials have denied or failed to respond to repeated requests to release information, including officers’ names and bodycam video, which is required in BLM’s deadly force agreement with Metro police. Metro declined to release information, citing the ongoing criminal case against the Silverado’s driver and directing the request to BLM. The Justice Department denied a Review-Journal FOIA request about whether the office considered criminal charges in the Negrette shooting, declining even to confirm whether the U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas reviewed the case.

Jason C. Fries, who has served as an expert witness for 23 years in officer-involved shootings, said it makes no sense that the officers who told investigators they were in danger didn’t fire their guns — but the officer who was farthest away did. “There are a lot of reasons not to shoot at a moving vehicle,” said Fries, who is CEO of 3D Forensic, which reconstructs police shootings for investigators and court cases. “The officer who shoots puts the (other) officers in danger. Having an uncontrolled car around fellow officers is never a good thing.”

A use-of-force policy paper, released in 2020 by 11 top law enforcement associations, cautioned that shooting at a moving vehicle should only be done when there are no other alternatives. Negrette declined to comment when reached by phone, saying he isn’t allowed to discuss the shooting until the driver’s criminal case is resolved. The other four officers could not be reached for comment or did not return calls. In his FIT interview four days after the shooting, documents show Negrette said that the moving truck was “an imminent threat to one of my officers. And so I acted accordingly.” BLM would not confirm if Negrette is still with the agency or release its policy on officer-involved shootings and data about the agency’s force cases. Davis’ girlfriend, Alicia Reed, said police overreacted to a nonviolent offense of the three men stripping two vehicles in the desert. “Greg was up there committing a crime,” Reed said. “I absolutely get that. My thing is, he deserves to be in jail. … He doesn’t deserve to be dead.” Davis’ ex-wife, Yvonne Efverlund, said Metro and BLM officials gave her the runaround when she tried to obtain more information about her ex-husband’s death. “It’s a cover-up,” she said. “They’re trying to cover up … everything because I think they all made mistakes.”

From K-9 arrest to fatal shooting

The March 17 shooting started as a routine patrol.

BLM chief Brad Sones and Negrette were driving around East Lake Mead Boulevard and spotted Eric Orrantia, Carlos Cardenas and Davis dismantling two stolen vehicles at about 3:45 p.m., police records said. All of the men had arrests, mostly for drugs and theft. Davis’ family said Orrantia and Davis were roommates but didn’t know Cardenas.

Outnumbered, Sones called for backup, bringing BLM ranger Miles McCall, and two National Park Service officers, Kristin Waring and Todd Austin with his K-9, to the desolate area.

On state Route 147 at mile marker 10, Sones, McCall, Austin and Waring parked their vehicles, intending to confront and arrest the men with the help of a police dog.

Sones told Negrette, who served in the Marines, to go up on the hill as a lookout and gave Negrette his AR-15 rifle equipped with a scope, court records show.

Sones, the lead officer on the scene, did not turn on his body camera until after the shooting.

The thieves spotted the officers at 4:38 p.m. and jumped into a Silverado. They barreled down a narrow dirt road cut into the hillside that led out of the area, records and video show. Several of the men previously had been charged with fleeing police.

Seeing the officers’ vehicles, Orrantia, who was driving, initially slowed down, but then gunned the truck toward park officer Austin’s vehicle, records show. He swerved left to avoid Austin, then headed towards Sones, who was on foot outside his vehicle. The Silverado came as close as 24 feet to the chief, the Metro FIT report said. As Orrantia was turning the truck to avoid Sones and apparently trying to escape, Negrette, who was about half the length of a football field away, fired a burst of three rounds, his bodycam video shows. As the vehicle skidded toward the flood wash, Negrette fired five more shots into the back of the truck. Negrette’s LinkedIn profile shows he has a varied history of jobs since leaving the U.S. Marine Corps in 2016. He worked three months as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, less than a year as a park ranger for Phoenix, and nine months as an EMT for a company that freezes humans with the hope future science will be able to revive them. He started at the National Park Service in 2019 and joined BLM in November 2021, records show.

History of arrests

After Negrette’s shots hit the Silverado, it quickly went off an embankment and flipped, coming to rest on the passenger’s side door. Orrantia and Cardenas ran from the truck.

Cardenas, 33, who goes by the nickname “Tweety,” was shot in the back and left arm. He didn’t make it very far. Officers handcuffed him and started treating his wounds.

Cardenas served prison time for a felon with a weapon, failing to stop for police and having a stolen credit card, Nevada Department of Public Safety records show. He had a large 28th Street back tattoo, which police say signified a gang affiliation. He pleaded guilty to possessing a stolen vehicle and tampering with vehicles for the March arrest and was sentenced to a maximum of three years. Orrantia, also 33, whose nickname in police files is “Menace,” was able to get farther despite Negrette shooting him in the right foot. Parks officers and a police dog tracked him down near East Lake Mead Boulevard. He previously served prison time for several stolen property and drug charges over the past decade. For the March confrontation, he is charged with assault and attempted murder for driving toward officers and a number of other offenses.

At a preliminary hearing in August, Orrantia, who pleaded not guilty, maintained through his attorney, Philip Singer, that the assault and attempted murder charges are a way to cover up the flawed shooting. “No one was scared,” Singer said at the hearing. “No one fired their weapon. … The only reason that the charges were filed …it’s basically to keep Negrette’s job or to save face.”

By Arthur Kane Las Vegas Review-Journal

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