Vegas police, VA system draw criticism after standoff slaying of unarmed Gulf War veteran
The Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — An hour into a standoff with police, it was clear that Stanley Gibson was going nowhere.
An unarmed Gibson sat at the wheel of his cream-colored Cadillac, pinned between police cruisers. He slammed the gas pedal, his squealing tires churning out a cloud of blue smoke as police officers trained their weapons on him, witnesses said. One gunshot rang out, then a barrage of others.
The Gulf War veteran slumped over the wheel dead, his car horn blaring.
By all accounts, Gibson was a troubled man. His family said he was suffering from cancer and delusions. He needed medication for anxiety and was agitated as he quarreled with Veterans Affairs over his care.
How he came to die in a hail of bullets after he became lost trying to find his way home is raising questions about the use of force by Las Vegas police, a department with 11 other fatal police shootings this year, and about the quality of VA services for struggling veterans.
"This was avoidable," said Robert Sibulkin, a Las Vegas businessman who grew to know Gibson well while renting a home to him and his wife.
Gibson's death from multiple gunshot wounds was ruled a homicide. The four patrol officers involved in the shooting are on paid leave pending a departmental investigation. Officer Laura Meltzer, a police spokeswoman, declined comment Thursday until the probe was complete.
The shooting, however, has drawn condemnation from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which noted Gibson was black, and calls for an independent investigation from the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, the elected official in charge of the Las Vegas police, said Thursday he'd welcome a U.S. Justice Department review. "I do not see that as an adversarial process," he said.
Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C., said they hadn't received a formal request.
The death also focused attention on the Department of Veterans Affairs' crisis services for 45,000 area former military members.
Gibson's widow, Rondha Gibson, blamed the VA.
"They killed my husband," she told KTNV-TV, the Las Vegas ABC television affiliate. "If they would have listened to me and stopped canceling his appointments and made sure he had his medication on time, he would have been OK."
Stanley Lavon Gibson, 43, served in the Army from June 1989 to June 1992 and was honorably discharged, the VA said. He believed his cancer came from wartime exposure to depleted uranium used in armor-piercing shells.
"He signed up to do his service, no questions asked," said Lori Weckhorst, a friend since childhood who lives in Atoka, Okla. "He did what was expected of him and he was released. And all he wanted was what the government promised him in return, and he was failed over and over and over."
Rondha Gibson shared VA and Army records with the Las Vegas Review-Journal showing that her husband served in the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment and was diagnosed in 1995 with cancer in the throat. He underwent five surgeries that left his jaw disfigured.
She has not responded to requests for an interview with The Associated Press.
Gibson's records showed he was rated 100 percent disabled, the Review-Journal said. In August, the VA regional office in Reno informed him that his service-connected disability rating had been lowered to 80 percent. His disability payments were reduced.
About the same time, a friend wrote to the VA, saying Gibson had tried to commit suicide twice this year, the Review-Journal reported.
Veterans Affairs Southern Nevada Healthcare System official Robert Johnson offered condolences to Gibson's family and acknowledged criticisms about Gibson's VA treatment. But he said federal patient confidentiality laws prevented him from talking about Gibson's case.
Johnson said the VA offers telephone hotlines, walk-in mental health clinic treatment and group and individual therapy for veterans with mental health issues or post-traumatic stress.
"We consider any veteran a hero," he said. "We don't know all the facts of what occurred."
Rondha Gibson described her husband as prone to paranoid delusions and anxiety, and said he had trouble recently getting a refill of his prescribed anti-anxiety medication. She said she and her husband recently moved out of the home they rented from Sibulkin.
Sibulkin said he cut the Gibson' rent, then let them live rent-free for about six months. But as he lost the house to the bank, the couple moved Dec. 1 to a first-floor apartment in a cookie-cutter apartment complex a few miles away.
It was clear that Gibson was in crisis, Sibulkin said. He was slightly paralyzed on one side of his face, his speech was impaired and he was growing thin and frail. The landlord said he knew Gibson called local media and government officials seeking help.
"There was no question this man was not in good shape," Sibulkin said.
In recent years, Gibson had several encounters with police on drug, weapon and domestic violence charges. Two days before the shooting, police took him to jail on a resisting-an-officer charge after he screamed at passing cars and accused his wife of conspiring against him.
Rondha Gibson said police said her husband would be seen by a doctor on a 72-hour psychiatric evaluation. But he arrived back home Sunday, telling his wife he had taken out the trash and didn't remember going to jail.
After nightfall, he called her several times from his car, apparently confused about where he was.
Their new apartment was number 1006. A witness said he noticed Gibson driving his car slowly around the wrong complex with the emergency lights flashing before going to the door of a neighbor's apartment, number 1116.
Police said they were called to a report of a man trying to break into an apartment.
"He was putting along like he was lost," said the man, who agreed to speak with the AP if his name wasn't published. He said he provided a detailed statement to police, but didn't want to become any more involved in the case.
The man said the slow standoff changed after Gibson accelerated his engine, spinning his wheels. "He couldn't go anywhere," the witness said.
Darren Dittmann, another neighbor, showed reporters a smart phone video of the shooting, which he said happened a little after 12:30 a.m. Monday.
One shot was followed by a quick succession of shots.
"They got to do what they got to do," he said. "I just don't see that it was worth taking a life."