Metro Capt: Life Moves On But Not Easily After Using Deadly Force
Three years ago this month, two Las Vegas police officers were shot and killed while having lunch at a pizza restaurant on Nellis Boulevard.
The shooting came at a time when police were being scrutinized around the country for questionable shootings of unarmed suspects.
And much of the country still questions the use of deadly force by police, in large part because police work is so far apart from the everyday lives of most Americans.
Capt. John Pelletier says he gets that.
He’s been involved in three shootings over nearly 20 years as a Metro cop, one of them resulting in death. He talked with State of Nevada about his fatal shooting, he said, in the interest of transparency and the hopes of providing some insight for Nevada residents, as well as his fellow officers.
. . .
Pelletier was part of Metro’s Problem Solving Unit. In plain clothes. And looking for an armed robbery suspect. It was September 2002; still pretty warm out, and close to 11 p.m.
Pelletier was in his Metro-issue Chevy Lumina—unmarked, sure, but Luminas were known to almost everybody as the go-to car for police -- when his “spidey senses” went off.
That’s when he noticed the interest that a driver stopped next to him -- at Stephanie Street and Tropicana Avenue--was taking in him and his Lumina.
The next stoplight turned green, but the Blazer didn’t immediately move. Pelletier knew he had been recognized. Then a dispatcher crackled over the radio that the Blazer was driving with a stolen license plate.
Pelletier drove ahead and saw the Blazer and another vehicle drive into the parking lot of the Nevada Palace Hotel-Casino on Boulder Highway. He followed but was already thinking “ambush.”
Suddenly the Blazer stopped. The driver got out and, holding what Pelletier described as a “hand cannon,” walked back quickly toward Pelletier with the gun pointed at him.
Pelletier said he had no option. He couldn’t move his car or get out of the car quickly enough – the man had him dead if he pulled the trigger.
Instead, Pelletier pulled his gun out of his holster and fired seven times, shooting through his windshield, one bullet hitting the man in the head and killing him.
It turned out later that the man was working with a woman – who was in the vehicle that followed him into the Palace parking lot. And the “hand cannon” had been used in the murder of a police officer in Arizona.
. . .
Several weeks ago, Metro police held a training session, of sorts, with members of the Las Vegas media. As part of that, three officers who had used deadly force on duty were brought in to talk about it.
Many said it was something that never left them. They all felt justified in what they had to do. But the fact that they had killed someone something they awoke to and remembered almost daily.
Pelletier went through something very similar.
After the shooting, he was part of what was then called the “coroner’s inquest,” a quasi-legal proceeding where a county prosecutor questions witnesses, including the officer involved, to determine if the shooting was justified or not.
Inquests were open to the public and held in the Clark County courthouse. And they were fraught with tension, as both family members of the deceased and friends of the officer were all packed into a small courtroom.
Pelletier’s shooting was deemed justified.
And Pelletier knew, in his mind, that he had no choice but to shoot the man later identified as Edward Cook.
He took time off from work. He saw the therapists that Metro required him to see. But the shooting, the very act of killing another person, still weighed on him. He would think of it almost every day.
Pelletier remembers the pressure he felt before telling his wife-to-be that, in the course of duty, he had killed someone. He wonders how, someday in the not too distant future, he’ll tell his own children about it—or if he will.
He’s also been involved in two other shootings since then. Both suspects survived and are serving life sentences in Nevada. Pelletier talks about those shootings, especially the fatal, with incredible detail, like it just happened yesterday.
He knows in his heart he had to pull that trigger-- and in doing so, took away a father, a son and a loved one. He doesn't think of it as much as he used to. It's been 15 years now.
But it's still there.
"I would definitely, just as soon go the rest of my career and not have another critical incident," he says.
From Desert Companion: High Alert: Taking Care of Cops' Minds
(Editor's note: This interview originally aired June 2017)
Capt. John Pelletier, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department