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Officer Fires Gun in School Parkinglot
No one is hurt as campus policeman shoots into car

Las Vegas Review-Journal | May 19, 2005

A school police officer shot into a car in the parking lot of Palo Verde High School on Wednesday as hundreds of students spilled outside after school.

No one was hurt in the incident, but the gunfire brought crime scene tape and police activity rarely seen on the campus or in its surrounding Summerlin neighborhoods.

"It was really scary," sophomore Liza Henley said. "It was something you see on TV, not in real life."

The incident began about 1:25 p.m., minutes after the final bell sent hundreds of students into the parking lot in front of the school near Alta Drive and the Las Vegas Beltway.

Riding with a friend in a white Mazda 6 sedan, Eric Clifton, a former Palo Verde student, zipped through the parking lot looking for girls, he said.

When the teens pulled to the front of the school, an officer approached and told them to stop, but Clifton's friend ignored the order and drove away, he said.

"He wasn't thinking. He doesn't like the police. I don't like the police. He was just trying to get away," the 18-year-old said, adding that he had been stopped and questioned by campus police on three previous visits.

Bicycle officers chased the car as it sped through the lot. It almost reached a parking lot exit before an officer cut it off, prompting the driver to speed down the aisle in reverse and nearly hit students walking to their vehicles, witnesses said.

At one point, an officer threw his bicycle in front of the car, which dragged the bike about 40 feet before getting stuck on a speed bump in the middle of the aisle, witnesses said.

Clifton said his friend put the car in reverse to try to free the bicycle, and that's when one of the officers fired.

"I guess he thought his life was in danger," Clifton said.

The driver surrendered after the shooting, which left a single bullet hole in the driver's side door just below the window. Police also arrested Clifton but released him later without charging him.

Officer Darnell Couthen, spokesman for the Clark County School District police, said the driver would be charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer and reckless endangerment. He said he would not release the driver's name until he was booked into jail.

Police found open containers of alcohol in the car, school district sources said.

Las Vegas police are investigating the officer-involved shooting because of their experience handling such cases, and the officer was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, Couthen said.

The officer's name will be withheld until 48 hours after the shooting.

Couthen would not release specific details about what happened during the shooting or why the officer fired, but district sources said the driver of the car threw the vehicle into reverse and tried to run the officer down. The officer fired because he believed he and the students in the parking lot were in immediate danger, the sources said.

Students were in the area of the shooting, but none were in the officer's target area when he fired, Couthen said.

Sophomore Lauren Manix, however, said she felt like she was in danger because her car was parked on the opposite side of the Mazda when police opened fire. The 16-year-old said she was in her car, ducking for cover, when the shot was fired.

Henley, 16, said she had to dodge the speeding car, yet she questioned the officer's decision to fire in the bustling parking lot.

"I definitely don't think it was necessary to shoot at the car when there were that many students around," she said.

Tanya Patterson, a parent, said she couldn't believe there was gunfire on the campus.

"That's why I moved up here, because I want to keep my kids away from this," she said after picking up her son, freshman Ryan Patterson.

She wondered why officers would put students in jeopardy trying to catch a parking lot speeder.

"Somebody innocent could have been hurt, because bullets don't have names," she said.

Review-Journal staff writer Lisa Kim Bach contributed to this report.

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