The Vegas Solution to Fatal Drug Raids: SWAT Teams


On Saturday a coroner's inquest cleared a Las Vegas police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man, Trevon Cole, during a June 11 drug raid on the apartment the 21-year-old shared with his pregnant fiancée. Det. Bryan Yant testified that he kicked in the door to Cole's bathroom and found him squatting by the toilet, apparently flushing his pot stash. Yant said Cole then rose to his feet and "made an aggressive act toward me," moving his hands in a shooting motion while holding something metallic. No such object was found in the bathroom after Yant shot Cole, although the dead man was holding a yellow tube of lip balm. The position of Cole's body and the downward trajectory of the bullet as it pierced his cheek before lodging in his neck indicated that he was still crouching when he was shot, suggesting that Yant's gun may have gone off accidentally as he came through the door.

The inquest also highlighted errors in Yant's search warrant application. "Despite having a copy of Cole's California driver's license, complete with a physical description and date of birth," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports, "Yant confused Cole with a Trevon Cole from Houston and California, who was seven years older, at least 3 inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter." Yant also erroneously claimed that the other Trevon Cole had a history of drug trafficking, when in fact his record was limited to possession charges. The Review-Journal reports that the same detective is "under investigation for apparently lying about drugs he didn't seize and actions he didn't take during a 2009 police raid that never happened."

The seven-member inquest jury nevertheless concluded that the shooting was justified. "Of about 200 Clark County coroner's inquests in officer-involved killings since 1976," Phil Smith dryly notes in the Drug War Chronicle, "only one has resulted in a finding of criminal negligence. Whether that near-perfect percentage of acquittals results from exceptionally good police work in Las Vegas, or an inadequate process and institution, depends on who one asks."

The fatal raid was embarrassing enough that Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie promised a thorough investigation. "Until our internal processes are thoroughly reviewed," Gillespie said, "all forced entry search warrants will be served by the department's Special Weapons and Tactical Unit (SWAT), which trains regularly and is well-qualified and suited for high-risk operation." Now there's a solution to the problem of police storming into people's homes and shooting them dead in an attempt to prevent them from selling pot: have SWAT teams do it. Why hasn't anyone else thought of that?

The Drug War Chronicle has more on the Cole case here and here.