Community members and police reform advocates called for the reopening of the investigation into the January 5th death of Miciah Lee during Monday’s Sparks City Council meeting, two weeks after Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks ruled the officer-involved shooting death of the Black teen was justified.
The City Council meeting was held virtually over Zoom, but several police reform advocates gathered outside Sparks City Hall and set up faux tomb stones along the sidewalk emblazoned with the names of people who have died in officer-involved shootings in Sparks. Standing on the sidewalk, several called in to the City Council meeting and spoke during the public comment period.
Their calls to action include the reallocation of police funds toward mental health services, public access to unedited police body cam footage of officer-involved shootings, and changes in police oversight authority. During the meeting, advocates called for an independent, third-party police oversight agency with the authority to recommend the firing and filing of charges against police officers involved in fatal shootings.
Many questioned why armed police were called in to respond to Miciah Lee, who was suffering a mental health crisis at the time of his death.
“The budget is disproportionate in community development versus policing,” Lilith Baran, one of the public commenters, said. “I would like to know how you’re going to fix the disproportionate availability for mental health services to discourage events like what happened to Miciah Lee and Kenny Stafford from happening in your town.”
Sparks police were first called to the scene by Lee’s mother, who told the dispatcher her son was suffering from mental illness and was threatening to kill himself or commit “suicide by cop.” Kenny Stafford was an Iraqi war veteran battling PTSD when he was killed by Sparks police in 2013.
“Over 75 percent of your community members that were killed by police officers were suffering a mental health crisis,” Baran said. “The Mobile Outreach Safety Team was not deployed, even though they were asked to be deployed.”
Another public commenter, who identified herself as Olivia, questioned why armed police are regularly called to respond to mental health crises.
“There’s really no reason that somebody with a gun should be involved in dealing with somebody who is having a mental health crisis,” she said. “We want these officers to be fired and we want you to change your system so that it never happens to anybody again.”
Another common concern expressed was about how long it took for the police body cam footage of the Lee killing to be released to the public.
“It took over five months to get doctored body camera footage [of Lee’s killing] and we would like unedited body camera footage from every single officer, as well as an independent community investigation into the police,” Baran said to commissioners.. “We do not feel we have received justice on this matter. Many members of your community are dissatisfied with your leadership and you need to make it right.”
Public commenter Angelo Monroy directly called out District Attorney Hicks’ ruling that Lee’s killing was justified.
“I think it’s abhorrent that District Attorney Christopher Hicks would assert that the officers who shot Miciah were justified in their actions, especially after there was a lack of de-escalation used in the body cam footage,” Monroy said. “What Hicks did was a slap in the face to Miciah’s family and to the entire Reno-Sparks community.”
Additionally, Monroy cited that no charges have been filed by the District Attorney’s Office in any of the 22 officer-involved shooting deaths in Washoe County since February of 2016.
“There’s no other mandated oversight for officer-involved shootings in Truckee Meadows beyond the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office, and once the DA renders a decision, the case is considered close,” Monroy said. “As city council members, you are elected by the City of Sparks to serve and represent the will of your citizens. Right now that means standing up to Sparks PD in refusing to accept the DA’s decision. Please reopen the case and please show up for the community and bring justice for Miciah Lee.”
Several members of the public favored the idea of forming a civilian-led committee to oversee a renewed investigation into Lee’s death. They vowed to continue making their voices heard at Sparks City Council meetings until the reforms they are calling for are implemented.
“We are extremely displeased and we will not go away,” Lilith Baran said. “We are standing right now in front of City Hall. I know you’re not here, but we will make sure to be here every single time you have a meeting to discuss these issues until you give us justice for these people, especially Miciah Lee, who was a black man suffering a mental health crisis and shot more than six times in your city.”
Scott King is a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, pursuing his Master’s degree in Media Innovation. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Scott recently returned from Grenada, where he served for two years as a literacy teacher with the Peace Corps. Support his work in the Ally.