For Immediate Release
Contact: Michelle Bays
775.321.4307 (o); 775.771.6049 (c)
June 29, 2020
Washoe County District Attorney (DA) Chris Hicks has determined that the January 5, 2020 Sparks Police Department Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) of Miciah Lee, by officers with the Sparks Police Department was justified under Nevada law. This conclusion is based on an extensive review of the entire investigation and the application of Nevada law to the known facts and circumstances surrounding the shooting incident.
In a statement about the case, DA Chris Hicks said,
“Mr. Lee’s death was a tragic end to a young man’s life and this community should be saddened by it. As District Attorney, my ethical and professional responsibility is to justly uphold the law and apply it equally and objectively in all situations. I have always abided by that responsibility, when the world is looking and when it is not. My decision in this case is based on the law in Nevada and upon a thorough review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident and the actions of the officers involved in the shooting.”
Consistent with this office’s ongoing public reporting on all OIS cases, a detailed 50-page report containing the facts of the case, photographs, identification of those involved, witness accounts, and the incident’s legal analysis has been released to the public and is available on the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office’s website at https://www.washoecounty.us/da/newsroom/reports.php Inquiries regarding the release of any public records involving the investigation and its evidence should be directed to the involved law enforcement agency. Additionally, this office has been informed the Sparks Police Department has prepared and will release a Critical Incident Community Briefing containing relevant Body Worn Camera Footage on their website at http://sparkspolice.com/news-alerts/
Summary of the Report:
On January 5, 2020, at 5:48 p.m., a 911 call was received by Sparks Police Emergency dispatch from Susan Clopp (hereinafter “Clopp”), informing them that her son, Miciah Lee, 18 (hereinafter “Lee”), was suicidal and located in front of Chuck’s Boulevard Pizza, a popular restaurant on Rock Boulevard in Sparks, Nevada. Clopp added that Lee was armed with a handgun and was threatening to kill himself or “die by cop.” She further informed the dispatcher the she and her two other sons were attempting to block Lee’s car with their bodies so he could not leave but felt Lee may run her or her son over with his vehicle. Clopp also stated that Lee was mentally unstable and had a history of drug use. The information provided by Clopp, about Lee’s location, his mental state, his suicidal ideation, and the fact that he was armed with a handgun was then broadcast to Sparks Police Department (hereinafter “SPD”) Officers who responded quickly to the emergency.
Lee had already fled in his vehicle when the first officers arrived, with Clopp and her sons attempting to follow him on foot. Responding officers initially located and met with Clopp on 15th Street, near Sparks High School, and received additional information that Lee was in a silver Pontiac, that he had a handgun, and that he had a bipolar disorder and other mental health issues. Clopp was in obvious distress, adding that Lee had threatened to “die by cop” or commit suicide. While several SPD officers remained on scene with Clopp and one of her sons, additional SPD officers continued their search for Lee’s vehicle.
Minutes later, SPD Officer Ryan Patterson (hereinafter “Officer Patterson”) located Lee’s vehicle near the intersection of 13th Street and G Street. The vehicle had its lights off and as Officer Patterson slowed to see the license plate, Lee sped away into a small housing complex. Officer Patterson called out over the radio that he had located Lee and then followed him to 15th Street, where Lee turned northbound heading towards the location of Clopp, her son, and responding officers. Due to the nature of the 911 call and Lee’s approach towards other officers and family members, Officer Patterson initiated his lights and siren to stop Lee. Lee did not stop. Instead, he increased his speed, first to 40 miles per hour, and then to approximately 48 miles per hour in a 25 miles per hour residential area. Lee sped past his family members and SPD Officers, who were taking cover from his approach on 15th Street.
At the intersection of 15th Street and Rock Boulevard, Lee struck the rear end of an occupied blue sedan that was waiting at the stop sign. Officer Patterson pushed his patrol vehicle against the rear of Lee’s vehicle to block him in and secure Lee from causing further danger. Officer Patterson and other responding officers repeatedly shouted multiple verbal commands at Lee to shut off his vehicle, to exit his vehicle, and to show his hands. Lee disregarded these commands, revved his engine, and began trying to physically push the blue sedan in front of him out of his way and onto Rock Boulevard and its oncoming traffic. For nearly a minute, Lee thrust his vehicle into the back of the occupied blue sedan, which caused his vehicle’s tires to spin and squeal. The driver of the blue sedan continually pressed on his brakes in order to avoid being pushed onto Rock Boulevard. Hoping to get control of Lee, an officer fired a foam projectile through a window of Lee’s vehicle to shatter it, thereby enabling officers to physically remove Lee.
However, after the foam projectile penetrated the window, Lee had created enough space to maneuver his vehicle from the vehicle block. He sped away northbound on Rock Boulevard into a residential neighborhood. For approximately three-quarters of a mile, Lee drove in excess of 70 miles per hour through the densely populated area listed as a 25 miles per hour zone. During this time, he crossed through numerous intersections and over several pedestrian crosswalks. At the intersection of Rock Boulevard and North McCarran Boulevard, Lee attempted to make a left-hand turn onto North McCarran Boulevard where many vehicles were traveling in both directions.
The speed of Lee’s vehicle made him unable to negotiate the turn. Lee crashed into a brick retaining wall on North McCarran Boulevard and then careened back across two travel lanes where his vehicle stopped crossways on the center median of North McCarran Boulevard between both the east and west travel lanes.
Multiple officers who had been pursuing Lee arrived at the crash site and again blocked Lee’s potential for travel by hitting the front and rear driver’s side of Lee’s vehicle. Officers then quickly approached Lee’s car shouting verbal commands at Lee to show his hands. The commands were again disregarded. Officer James Hammerstone (hereinafter “Officer Hammerstone”) and Officer Patterson approached Lee’s vehicle from the driver side door. Officer Hammerstone was able to open it, exposing Lee.
Both officers continued to give Lee commands to exit the car and show his hands. However, Lee remained in the driver’s seat, with only his right hand visible, resting on the upper part of his left leg. Lee’s left hand remained concealed near his lap area as officers continued instructing Lee to show his hands. Officer Patterson made the decision to release his police dog, Cabo, to help gain compliance from Lee. As trained, Cabo bit onto Lee’s left forearm. Officer Patterson then leaned into the vehicle and attempted to physically remove Lee from the driver’s seat. While struggling to remove Lee, Officer Patterson saw a handgun tucked between Lee’s legs. Officer Patterson attempted to grab the gun to secure it for his and Lee’s safety. As he did so, Lee also reached for the weapon.
Fearing for his life, Officer Patterson abandoned his attempt to secure the handgun, pushed off and away from Lee and drew his firearm. Officer Patterson yelled, “He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!” and discharged five shots at Lee, striking him multiple times.
Simultaneously to what was occurring with Officers Hammerstone and Patterson, Officer Eric DeJesus (hereinafter “Officer DeJesus”) had approached Lee’s vehicle on the passenger side. He unsuccessfully tried to open the passenger-door. Officer DeJesus watched as Officer Patterson engaged in the struggle with Lee before hearing Officer Patterson yell “gun” followed shortly by gunfire. Hearing this and believing that Lee had fired at Officer Patterson, Officer DeJesus discharged two rounds from his firearm, also striking Lee. Immediately following the shooting, SPD officers requested medical assistance. However, Lee was subsequently pronounced dead at the scene. During the subsequent investigation, it was discovered that Lee’s weapon was not loaded.
Consistent with the regionally-adopted Officer Involved Shooting Protocol, the Reno Police Department (hereinafter “RPD”) led the investigation into the shooting of Lee. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office (hereinafter “WCSO”) provided secondary investigative support, and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Science Division (hereinafter “FIS”) provided forensic services. The Washoe County District Attorney’s Office responded to the scene and was available to provide legal assistance in the investigation.
The investigation included interviewing witnesses, canvassing the shooting area for additional witnesses, collecting physical evidence, photographing the shooting scene, forensically testing collected evidence, obtaining available video evidence, reviewing medical records of Lee, and interviewing multiple officers to include those involved in the shooting.
Upon completion of the entire investigation, all police reports along with FIS forensic reports, collected documentation, photographs, witness statements, recorded audio and video of the incident, dispatch recordings, and recorded interviews were submitted to the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office on or around May 11, 2020 for a final determination of whether the shooting of Lee was legally justified under the law. No criminal charges against Officers Patterson or DeJesus were recommended by RPD.
The District Attorney’s evaluation included reviewing approximately 1000 pages of reports and documents, which included interviews of police and civilian witnesses. It further included the review of all photographs, hours of video and audio recordings, and examination of the scene of the shooting.
Legal Analysis Based on the Facts and Nevada Law:
In a matter of minutes leading up to the fateful moment Lee was shot, Officer Patterson had witnessed significant public risk unfold due to Lee that demonstrated Lee’s willingness to act dangerously. Lee consistently ignored officers’ commands to exit his vehicle and show his hands. Lee repeatedly thrust his vehicle into another, occupied by a citizen, attempting to push it onto the roadway and its oncoming traffic. Lee then drove recklessly through a densely populated residential neighborhood ultimately crashing into a retaining wall and ricocheting across travel lanes on a busy thoroughfare. Officer Patterson bore witness to all this, while also knowing that Lee was armed and mentally unstable.
Upon releasing Cabo to gain compliance of Lee, Officer Patterson, without his firearm drawn, tried to physically remove Lee from the vehicle by hand. In the struggle, Officer Patterson discovered the firearm between Lee’s legs. Officer Patterson attempted to seize the firearm, but Lee also reached for the weapon, even though he was being physically engaged by a police dog. Fearing for his safety, Officer Patterson immediately pushed off, stepped back, drew his weapon and fired five shots at Lee.
When Officer Patterson fired, he reasonably believed that there was an imminent danger that he could be killed or suffer great bodily injury. The circumstances leading up to the shooting were sufficient to excite the fears of a reasonable person in a similar situation. As such, Officer Patterson reasonably believed that it was absolutely necessary for him to use deadly force for self-defense.
Officer DeJesus was aware of the same information about Lee and witnessed the same public risk unfold due to Lee’s behavior leading up to the second crash. At the time of the shooting, his vantage point of Lee was through the tinted passenger side window of Lee’s vehicle. He observed the physical struggle between Lee and Officer Patterson and then heard Officer Patterson yell out that Lee had a gun. Officer DeJesus then hears shots being fired. Fearing for his safety and Officer Patterson’s safety he fired two rounds at Lee.
In that moment, Officer DeJesus reasonably believed that there was an imminent danger that he or Officer Patterson could be killed or suffer great bodily injury. The circumstances leading up to the shooting were sufficient to excite the fears of a reasonable person in a similar situation. As such, Officer DeJesus reasonably believed that it was absolutely necessary for him to use deadly force for self-defense or defense of Officer Patterson.
Although Lee’s firearm was ultimately determined to be unloaded, Officers Patterson and DeJesus had no way of knowing this fact at the time they fired their weapons. In Nevada, a person has a right to defend from apparent danger to the same extent as he would from actual danger.
While the unfortunate reality of the tragic death of Miciah Lee cannot be overstated, the facts and circumstances of the entire incident when applied to Nevada law reveal the actions of Officer Patterson and Officer DeJesus were legally justified.