The presumption is, a protest is intended to be an ostentatiously loud event staged to draw attention to an issue with as many people as possible, but in an era when heavily-armed militiamen and bikers shadow Black Lives Matter events in northern Nevada, the die-in held at the office of Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks on Friday was announced less than an hour before it began.
As many as 50 people showed up to demand the release of evidence related to the officer-involved shooting death of 18-year old Miciah Lee on January 5 of this year.
According to scant reports, Lee’s mother Susan Clopp called 911 and asked Sparks police to intervene to prevent her son from taking his own life with a gun. A vehicle chase ensued. Lee crashed his car near the intersection of Rock and McCarran boulevards. Sparks police say Lee was reaching for a gun when they shot him.
In accordance with regional officer-involved shooting protocols, Reno police conducted the investigation and delivered the evidence to Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks on May 5 of this year.
Hicks is charged with determining if the officers involved in the Miciah Lee shooting are in violation of Nevada law.
Beyond the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office, there is no other mandated oversight of officer-involved shootings in the Truckee Meadows. Once the DA renders a decision, the case is considered closed.
Since February 3, 2016, there have been 22 officer-involved shootings in the Reno, Sparks, Washoe County region. A police officer has not been charged with a crime in any of the shootings.
Since the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody and riot at Reno City Hall on May 30, the call to release the Miciah Lee investigation materials has grown louder and more consistent at a series of Black Lives Matter events to include Friday’s die-in.
A Washoe County DA spokesperson told the Ally that the DA would render a decision around the end of June. At that time, he will also release all investigation materials, in accordance with officer-involved shooting protocols, which includes relevant officer bodycam video.
A New Form of Guerrilla Activism
Lilith Baran was one of the organizers of the die-in and said rather than hold large-scale, well-telegraphed events that “White Supremacists” shadow, Black rights and police reform advocates are announcing an “escalation” less than an hour before the event.
“This was our first die-in. There are many different strategies,” Baran said on Friday. “We’re going to be using these kinds of strategies from now on probably. I’m sure that there’ll be other organized things, or if people feel more comfortable with kids (at larger planned events), I mean, I left my kid at home because you don’t know the potential of what could happen.”
A pair of ACLU of Nevada legal observers were at the die-in. Some protesters wore a red armband, which indicated the activist was willing to be arrested and the ACLU was prepared to bail them out.
On Friday, protesters gathered on Sierra Street in downtown Reno, across the street from the office of Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks. They set up an American flag motif tent and a couple tables loaded with bottled water in support of the die-in that would shut down traffic on Sierra Street.
Before blocking the street, protesters held signs and engaged motorists on both sides of Sierra Street. Then a Mass Liberation organizer led the group up a wide set of stairs to the entrance of the DA’s office and formed a circle. An activist identified as Nathaniel addressed the group through a bullhorn.
“My father was shot and killed by a thug in the parking lot of the Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas. Was it a police officer, no. It was another Black guy, a young Black guy who shouldn’t of had a gun, shouldn’t have been in poverty, shouldn’t need to sell drugs to feed his daughter.
“So we’re not here to simply abolish systems of oppression and police specifically, we’re here to fuck up all systems because poverty is just as violent as the police,” Nathaniel said.
Many held a faux tombstone with the name of an individual who has been the victim of an officer-involved shooting in northern Nevada.
Several who spoke at the die-in referred to a civilian video of the Miciah Lee shooting available through renocopwatch.com. Activists say the video incriminates the police and prompts the urgent need for more information.
In the video, there is a series of seven gun shots followed by a single shot 18 seconds later. At 27 seconds, 2 more shots are fired. Then a voice can be heard yelling, “fuck, fuck.”
Activists delivered a letter to the District Attorney’s Office on Friday that makes several demands.
“We demand body cam footage be released to the families within 48 hours after any officer involved shootings. We demand that the Reno and Sparks Police Departments be defunded and have the funds relocated to mental health services, both in honor of Micaiah’s life, as well as to prevent any such tragedies from happening again. We demand that Officer Brian Sullivan, Officer Burman, and the other unidentified officers of the Sparks Police Department who were actively involved in the shooting be both fired AND prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Finally, we demand the immediate resignation of Jason Soto as acting city manager.”
Once the group had organized, they walked out onto Sierra Street to lie down with their ceremonial tombstones and mark the outlines of their bodies in chalk.
Prostrate protesters were silent for 8 minutes 46 seconds as a tribute to George Floyd who was murdered while in Minneapolis police custody.
During the die-in, Miciah Lee’s mother wept as she shouted through a blue mask and a bullhorn to the protesters. She addressed Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks directly.
“DA Hicks, release the bodycam footage of my son’s murder,” Susan Clopp said. “I’ve already seen the viral videos, and it shows that it was murder. Reno PD hasn’t done their job, and you haven’t done your job, and I am harassed and stalked by Sparks PD on a continuous basis.”
The Reno Police Department was well prepared for the event and stopped traffic on Sierra at First Street, a block away from the die-in.
Protesters continued call-and-response chants while occupying Sierra Street for as long as 25 minutes.
Police presence was subdued. Lights flashed on Reno police vehicles where they stopped traffic a block away, but near the protesters, there were four police officers on bicycles.
After a half-hour, one of the bicycle police officers approached the protesters and told organizers that they would reopen the street in about five minutes. The officer was calm and polite and said they had closed down a section of Virginia Street in front of the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Building and Courthouse, should the organizers wish to move the event to a venue where no arrests need be made.
After a brief conference, protesters decided to abandon Sierra Street and march a few blocks to the federal courthouse on the corner of Virginia and East Liberty.
Lilith Baran said that the Miciah Lee investigation has taken more than 5 months. According to Baran, the lack of action shows a disregard for the victim’s family. Miciah Lee’s mother has not been successful in gaining the release of investigation materials to date. The DA says his office will not release evidence from an active investigation. Baran says, Susan Clopp has no other recourse than to shout at the DA’s office through a bullhorn.
“If they were doing their job, she (Miciah Lee’s mother) wouldn’t be here. A grieving mother would not be standing here in the sun holding a picture of their kid if an adequate action were being done for what he means. She’s that desperate. She doesn’t know any of us,” Baran said.
According to Baran, if Miciah Lee’s family were wealthy, the decision would have been rendered and all the investigation materials would have been released.
“This is a class issue,” she said.
“I have to feel like, had he been in a different economic position, had he not been Black, if it had been in a different kind of neighborhood, this would not have happened in Arrow Creek,” Baran said. “This would not have happened at Montreux, and there’s a very
good reason for that. People are still shot in Montreux and Arrow Creek, as we know, but the police aren’t the ones doing it.”
Brian Bahouth is the founding editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally and has been a public media journalist since 1996. Support his work.