by Brandon Summers | September 30, 2019
“The police investigated themselves and found nothing wrong”— it’s a tongue-in-cheek saying that you’ve probably heard. Unfortunately, this is the outcome more often than not. As we’ve seen in high-profile police homicides of unarmed black men, police departments ask the public to wait for the findings of an official investigation before jumping to conclusions (and possibly rioting). The problem is that 99% of the time, the findings deem shootings justified and absolve the officer(s) involved of wrong-doing. Anyone with a pulse, short of #BlueLivesMatter/#ComplyOrDie bootlickers, should see the conflict of interest with cops investigating their peers. How can a police department be impartial about investigating, disciplining, and possibly prosecuting one of its own?— it can’t. You may be wondering what any of this has to do with me, so let me begin.
One year ago, the police took my phone. They also took my violin and a battery-powered amplifier that I street perform with. On Sunday, September 30, 2018, I was arrested for “obstructive use of sidewalk” while street performing on the Las Vegas Strip. After a sergeant with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) gave me a stern verbal warning about performing on a pedestrian bridge, I used my cell phone to record him harass an alleged water vendor minutes later. The retaliatory action of impounding my cell phone and violin was done under the guise of “preserving evidence” for court, so there was some semblance of legality. After nine years of street performing, I’ve had more contact with police than most law-abiding citizens. Though I had been ticketed and arrested before, I’d never been deprived of my property. Performers on the Las Vegas Strip had already been under constant scrutiny by the county and police for years, but the last twelve months marked a dramatic increase in tickets, arrests, and now instrument confiscation. Musicians, tumblers, and human statues had effectively been expelled from the resort corridor. I wasn’t going to let this go away quietly; and despite having the cards stacked against me, I was not deterred. However, I was oblivious to the scale of the thin blue wall.
The criminal justice system is unfavorable to vulnerable populations. Typically poor people (especially those who are black and/or Latino) and people experiencing homelessness draw the short straw in the legal system. Street performers are no different, and often take terrible plea deals for low-level misdemeanors. A recently-opened community court devoted to “crimes” committed on the resort corridor has made it even easier to do so. One musician told me that he pled guilty to get his guitar and music equipment released from the LVMPD evidence vault. Honestly, it’s a big hassle to continue going to court to fight these frivolous charges, and most don’t. I, however, am exceptionally stubborn (and privileged), so I decided that I was going to challenge my misdemeanor charge and file a complaint with internal affairs (IAB). I followed through by submitting a written complaint to internal affairs two weeks after the incident. Within a few weeks, I received a phone call from detective Ryan Chase saying that the Internal Affairs Bureau found nothing wrong with the officer’s conduct. “How?!” I thought, fuming. It was plain that sergeant Cirkosz retaliated against me by impounding my personal property; and there’s no way that his actions were within the bounds of LVMPD policy. I was pretty upset, but I didn’t stop looking for other avenues to find a real resolution.
I began contacting LVMPD’s Convention Center Area Command substation weekly to have my phone and violin released. I was unsuccessful until the NAACP intervened. My possessions were released from LVMPD’s Evidence Vault just before Christmas— roughly three months after my arrest in September. Shortly thereafter, the Citizen Review Board replied to one of my tweets, letting me know that I could file a complaint with them if I wasn’t satisfied with the disposition from internal affairs. That’s when the ball started rolling. I got a letter in the mail from internal affairs stating that they received my complaint and were going to do an investigation (…oh, so y’all didn’t take it serious before— I see).
In addition to the complaint, I requested bodycam footage from the incident.
The first request was denied.
The second request was denied.
Justice Court ignored my request for discovery.
Finally, my third request was honored after my criminal case was dismissed in January 2019. The LVMPD Body Worn Camera Division (BWC) gave me the opportunity to view bodycam footage from my arrest the previous year.
The video did not put sergeant Cirkosz or the police department in a favorable light. It was clear before the bodycam viewing that Cirkosz turned off his bodycam several times. There were eight videos— some of them very short. There should have been at most two. When I watched the footage, I noticed that Cirkosz turned off his camera when he decided to talk to me as I sat handcuffed in the back of a patrol car. This happened about 3-4 times. Nothing about our subsequent conversations needed to be confidential, but he wanted to convince me (off the record) that it was my fault I was in police custody. Shortly after watching the bodycam footage, I requested a copy. LVMPD’s Body Worn Camera (BWC) division complied, but waited another three months and charged $100 in redaction fees. In total, it took eight months from the date of my arrest to get a copy of the bodycam footage (video here). It felt like they didn’t want me to have it.
In regards to my written complaint, the Citizen Review Board made Internal Affairs do their job; and their conclusion was that sergeant Cirkosz should not have impounded my property or arrested me.
It seriously should not take all this time, energy and bureaucratic red tape to discipline officers who abuse their power. Cities shouldn’t have to create civilian review boards to look over the shoulder of internal affairs. Unfortunately, this is what we get when police departments are more concerned about themselves and their image rather than the people they serve.