For Immediate Release
Contact: Michelle Bays
775.321.4307 (o); 775.771.6049 (c)
Finding that the officer was justified in having used deadly force under Nevada law, District Attorney Hicks has released a detailed 34 page report containing comprehensive facts and evidence of the case including a legal analysis of the shooting incident. A copy of the report will be made available on the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office’s website at https://www.washoecounty.us/da/newsroom/reports.php
Details of the report:
On the morning of August 4, 2017, a Washoe County Sheriff’s Office deputy was dispatched to the area of Calle De La Plata and Echaniz Court in Sparks on a report of a “comatose” person inside a white GMC pickup truck. REMSA medics and firefighters were also dispatched to the call.
The deputy contacted the sole occupant of the truck, later identified as Stephens. After several seconds, Stephens stepped out of the truck and the deputy asked for identification, which Stephens claimed not to have. While Stephens was being evaluated by medics, he was asked to verbally provide his identifying information. In response, he provided his birthdate and Social Security Number but not his name. Rather, he provided his brother’s name. A short time later, medics left the scene after no medical issue or complaints were found.
The deputy ran the identifiers Stephens gave him through dispatch and was informed that he was possibly Cory Stephens who had a felony warrant for his arrest for failing to appear at a July sentencing on the charges of Eluding a Police Officer and Transporting a Controlled Substance. Based on this, the deputy verified Stephens’ identity by checking for a known tattoo and scar on his back.
While waiting for a cover unit, the deputy noted that Stephens became more animated by throwing his hands up and saying he wanted to leave. The deputy informed Stephens that he was not free to leave and that he was being detained.
Stephens began walking backward away from the deputy, refusing to cooperate with the order to stay in place. The deputy then drew his Taser and told Stephens several times to stop. Stephens did not comply and kept walking away before suddenly stopping and taking a fighting stance.
The deputy requested dispatch expedite cover officers and then deployed his Taser at Stephens, which partially struck his chest. Stephens fell to the ground but was able to pull the wires off the Taser probes, rendering the Taser ineffective.
As Stephens rolled to his hands and one of his knees, the deputy attempted to arrest and control Stephens. A struggle ensued and the deputy could feel Stephens using his left hand to pull and yank at the left side of the deputy’s duty belt. In doing this, Stephens was able to grab a police radio and repeatedly struck the deputy on the top of his head with it.
Fearing injury or being rendered unconscious, the deputy broke contact with Stephens, hoping to transition to his baton. Stephens was also able to quickly get to his feet. In response, the deputy drew his firearm and put Stephens at gunpoint, ordering him several times to stop and get on the ground. Stephens refused and began walking back towards the vehicles. The police vehicle was running and contained a loaded shotgun in the center console of the front compartment area as well as an accessible rifle in the back cargo area.
Stephens walked past his own truck and towards the patrol vehicle. The deputy followed Stephens while still holding him at gunpoint and giving verbal orders. Stephens continued to refuse to obey commands to stop and opened the unlocked driver door of the patrol vehicle. He then reached inside the front compartment area toward the loaded shotgun.
Seeing this, the deputy feared Stephens would gain access to his shotgun or rifle and shoot him or would steal his car and run him over. He also feared Stephens would flee in a marked patrol vehicle putting himself, other deputies, and citizens at risk. The deputy then fired three shots at Stephens, striking him once.
Consistent with the regionally adopted Officer Involved Shooting Protocol, the Reno Police Department led the investigation into the shooting of Stephens. The Sparks Police Department provided secondary investigative support, and the Washoe County Crime Laboratory (WCCL) provided forensic services. The investigation included interviewing witnesses, collecting physical evidence, photographing the shooting scene, forensically testing collected evidence, and interviewing the officer involved in the shooting.
All reports along with WCCL forensic reports, photographs, and recorded interviews were then submitted to the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office on March 21, 2019 for a determination of whether the shooting of Cory Stephens was legally justified. No criminal charges were recommended by RPD.
The District Attorney’s evaluation included reviewing over 500 pages of reports and documents, which included interviews of police and civilian witnesses, photographs, diagrams, video surveillance and examination of the scene of the shooting.
Based on the available evidence and the applicable legal authorities, it is the opinion of the District Attorney that the shooting of Cory Stephens by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Deputy was justified and not a criminal act.
The morning of August 4, 2017, was a culmination of a series of criminal acts committed by Cory Stephens. Stephens was facing sentencing for the serious felonies of Eluding a Peace Officer and Transporting a Controlled Substance, both of which are punishable up to six (6) years in the Nevada State prison. He failed to appear at that sentencing on July 26, 2017. Additionally, according to interviews with family and friends, Stephens was engaged in severe illicit drug use and repeatedly made suicidal statements. Additionally, the GMC pickup truck Stephens was driving at the time of the shooting was stolen from a car dealership in Fallon, Nevada.
Based on the investigation, it is clear that Stephens was internally going through the realization that his efforts to conceal his true identity would be discovered and he was going to be arrested for his warrants. His actions, combined with his mental state as described by friends and family, show a man who would avoid capture by law enforcement at all costs. Stephens was facing a fight or flight response to the reality of returning to jail and likely prison.
In the moments surrounding Stephens’ actions of entering the patrol vehicle and presumably reaching for the shotgun, the deputy reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death. It was absolutely necessary for him to use deadly force against Stephens in order to save his life and potentially the lives of others had Stephens escaped in his patrol vehicle.
Based on the review of the entire investigation presented and the application of Nevada law to the known facts and circumstances surrounding the August 4, 2017, officer involved shooting death of Cory Stephens, this office finds the case justified under Nevada law. Unless new circumstances come to light that contradict the factual foundation upon which this decision is made, this case is officially closed.