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13 years after Las Vegas Metropolitan Police killed him, Joseph Justin’s family demands accountability

Families who’ve lost loved ones to Metro killings join call for justice

Reporting: Carolina Chacon

Photos: Rick Ledesma

Video: Nissa Tzun

The full press conference for Joseph Justin, produced by Forced Trajectory Project. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Las Vegas, NV - Surrounded by the families of Nevadans killed by police, Ariah Justin demanded accountability for the two Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) police officers who killed her father, Joseph Justin. Since the officers were never charged for her father’s murder, Ariah called a press conference to seek justice for the father, son, husband, friend and Nevadan lost 13 years ago today.

“My dad was the best dad,” Ariah said, fighting through tears and painful memories. “Four months after my dad was killed, my little sister was born. Because Nichole Splinter and Timothy Nicothodes killed him, my little sister will never know who her dad was…”

Gulping another breath and nearly sobbing, Ariah continued. “She will never know what his hugs felt like. She will never know what his voice sounded like when he told you that he loved you.”

In between tears, Ariah Justin, daughter of LVMPD homicide victim Joseph Justin, describes her relationship with her father as she remembers as tender and fun. Behind her, Ariah's little sister Keylee Justin, who was born four months after her father was killed, sobs as Ariah tells the public Keylee will never know what her father's hugs are like. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Joseph Justin was murdered on August 22, 2007. Pegging him as a burglary suspect, it took the officers just 45 seconds between the original counter and when Joseph’s body lay on the floor, shot in his leg and back. Splinter and Nicothodes claim Joseph pointed a gun at them. Witnesses at the scene said they never saw Justin holding a gun and the police couldn’t produce evidence of said weapon on his person.

Ariah’s pain stems not only from the trauma of losing her father suddenly and violently, but also from seeing how neither LVMPD nor state authorities have held Splinter and Nicothodes to account for their actions. Nicothodes is now retired from the police force and receiving medical disability benefits after a checkered history with law enforcement. In 2011, Nicothodes crashed into another car while driving drunk. In 2015, Nicothodes was arrested for domestic assault.

Splinter, meanwhile, has been promoted commander of the LVMPD’s Office of Internal Oversight and Constitutional Policing -- the very office charged with investigating “officer-involved shootings” like Joseph’s.

“How can they put someone in charge of something they got away with?” Ariah asked in disbelief. “How can the community have trust in LVMPD when they’re putting people like that in charge of police-involved shootings?”

Ariah and her family are calling for clear and immediate accountability for Joseph’s death: Firstly, they want Splinter to resign. Secondly, they want LVMPD to terminate Nicothodes’ medical disability benefits, paid for by taxpayers. Lastly, they want Joseph’s belongings returned to the family. Ariah also implored the community to support the demands and empathize with the families who survive police brutality.

“We have to deal with this on a daily basis,” Ariah said. “When we wake up in the morning and when we go to sleep at night… You never know who could be next. It could be you.”

But Ariah did not stand alone in calling for justice on behalf of loved ones killed by LVMPD.

Alma Chavez, the mother of Rafael Olivas who was killed by LVMPD on July 14, 2011, described when she watched police officers shoot her son in front of her after she called 911 to request help while he was suffering an emotional breakdown. Like the Justin family, Alma has yet to receive Rafael’s belongings and was denied an opportunity for closure. No officers were ever charged for the killing of Rafael.

“Everybody can be the next victim,” Alma said. “There have been so many people after my son that never thought they would be victims and now they’re gone.”

Alma Chavez, mother of LVMPD homicide victim Rafael Olivas, who was gunned down on July 14, 2011, declares her support for the Joseph Justin family and their demands. Alma witnessed her son's police murder and was not interviewed as a witness by authorities which is not uncommon of LVMPD's internal investigations of police homicides, which Captain Splinter, who was involved in Justin's murder, now oversees. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Marcia Wells, the niece of Byron Williams, who was killed by LVMPD last September 5th, spoke about how LVMPD, too, tried to tarnish Byron’s reputation after killing him. In the year since Byron’s murder at the hands of LVMPD, no officers have been charged in his death.

“Why do these officers keep getting away with the murder that they’re doing?” Marcia said. “I ask for justice for all the families that are suffering from the homicides of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and other police around the world.”

Marcia Wells, niece of LVMPD homicide victim Byron Williams, who was killed last September 5 after being chased for not having a safety light on his bicycle, speaks at the press conference for Joseph Justin, demanding justice for the Justin family, and all families who have been impacted by LVMPD violence. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Mario Wilson, the son of Rex Wilson who was shot and killed by LVMPD officers on October 13, 2016, also supported Ariah’s demands. No officers were ever charged in Rex’s killing.

“Ariah and her family deserve justice and peace,” Mario said.

Mario Wilson, son of LVMPD homicide victim Rex Wilson who was killed on October 12, 2016, declares his support for the Joseph Justin family demands. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Carol Luke, the mother of Thomas McEniry, spoke about the difficulties in getting answers from LVMPD after officers shot Thomas eight times, killing him, over a cellphone they mistook for a gun. No officers were charged in Thomas’ case. Carol echoed Ariah’s call that Splinter be fired and Nicothodes’ benefits terminated.

“What about our families? What about the victims? What do they get?” she asked. “This is something no family should go through. So we stand united in solidarity today for change, for us, Las Vegas and around the world today.”

Carol Luke, mother of LVMPD homicide victim Thomas "TJ" McEniry describes the painful trajectory of impacted families as she holds up her son's hat. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Terry Rogaczewski’s story was unique. He survived a nearly fatal encounter with LVMPD in 2012, shot by police officers multiple times. In what has become a repeated pattern, police claimed Terry shot at them, but ballistics evidence from the crime scene investigation showed that Terry never fired his weapon at the officers. After his recovery, Terry was wrongfully incarcerated for 5 years, while the officers who shot him received medals of honor.

“Why is it that these officers seem to get promoted after they shoot and kill somebody?” Terry asked. “Nicothodes should not be getting benefits for something he did wrong. If you or I did the same thing, we wouldn’t be getting the same benefits.”

Police shooting survivor Terry Rogaczewski speaks about the disturbing culture of the LVMPD. The officers who shot him were likely intoxicated but since alcohol and drug testing is not mandated, they were not tested. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Local nonprofit organizations also expressed their support for the Justin family’s demands. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada, Las Vegas Liberation, Battle Born Progress, Mass Liberation Project, Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) all urged elected leaders to listen to the pleas of surviving families and terminate police officers who kill the community members they are sworn to protect.

“The story of Joseph Justin’s family is sadly not unique,” said Annette Magnus, Executive Director of Battle Born Progress, via a statement read at the press conference. “The families of Jorge Gomez, Tashii Brown-Farmer, Byron Williams, and others have come forward with the same calls for accountability. We urge Clark County and the City of Las Vegas to listen to the family of Joseph Justin, and all families of those killed by LVMPD police.”

Zyera Dorsey, co-founder of Las Vegas Liberation, read a statement by Annette Magnus, the Executive Director of Battle Born Progress, and expressed her support to the Joseph Justin family. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

“We stand with everyone suffering at the hands of systematic violence,” said Zyera Dorsey, an organizer with Las Vegas Liberation. “We demand that they return Joseph Justin’s belongings. Why has it been 13 years and this family has not received the belongings of their loved one? Not only this family has been suffering from this, but countless other families keep suffering from not being able to get their family’s belongings.”

“We see that day in and day out, people being harassed and brutalized by police for minor infractions and then stuffed in cages,” said Akiko Cooks, an organizer with the Mass Liberation Project. “But Joseph Justin wasn’t arrested that day. He wasn’t given his constitutional right of due process. He was murdered.”

Akiko Cooks, organizer with Mass Liberation Project expresses her support for Ariah and her family and their demands. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Wesley Juhl, Director of Communications and Outreach with the ACLU of Nevada, pointed out the immense power the police have: political, legal and physical.

“The combined result of all that power is that there’s no accountability when they use violence on our communities. We don’t have any systems in Clark County or in this state that allow for victims of police brutality to speak out or engage in questions of policy or accountability, and that needs to change,” Wesley said. “My message for the community is to open your ears and your minds and your hearts, and I really want to uplift Ariah’s demands. We need every community member that we can get on our side if we’re going to tackle this institutional and demand meaningful change.”

Others agreed.

ACLU Director of Communications and Outreach Wesley Juhl implored the community to "open your ears, your minds and your hearts," during the press conference for LVMPD homicide victim Joseph Justin. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

“We need every person, especially elected officials and people with decision making power, to demand the removal of these two corrupt Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department murderers,” said Laura Martin, the executive director of PLAN. “We need your support not just on your social media accounts; you hold the power to defund the police. You hold the power to hold these people accountable, to make sure they are not sent back out in our communities or sent to another state where they can continue their corruption.”

Laura also called out how police departments end up killing victims twice: first in the shooting, then by killing their reputations in the public.

“We not only call for all people and elected officials to hold Metro accountable, but I also want to hold our press accountable, who all too often copies and pastes everything a public information officer sends you. You need to go to these families and you need to go immediately and you need to find out exactly what happened, and not the Disney fairytale version that the Metro Police Department tells you. This is a culture in Metro, but this is our community, and we will cause a shift in that culture.”

Laura Martin of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, calls upon elected officials to include those directly impacted by police violence when they write laws that impact them, and calls out the mainstream media for amplifying one-sided narratives from the police department. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Sarah Hawkins of Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice made a promise to "bad cops" that the community will hold them accountable for the hurt they have caused. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

Incidentally, only one news outlet attended Ariah’s press conference, and as of this time, no media reports have been aired of the press conference, which was also livestreamed via Forced Trajectory Project’s social media channels.

Sarah Hawkins with the Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, a statewide coalition of defense attorneys, delivered a final message to LVMPD: “We are not your enemy. The community is not the enemy. Your enemy IS the mirror. It’s time to take a long hard look and make the changes. We will be there demanding accountability for the harms you’ve caused.”

The coalition that organized the press conference for Joseph Justin poses for a group photo. Back row (from left to right): Oja Vincent, Forced Trajectory Project, Sarah Hawkins, Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Zyera Dorsey, Las Vegas Liberation, Ariah Justin, daughter of LVMPD homicide victim Joseph Justin, Wesley Juhl, ACLU of Nevada, Sadie Zhou, Forced Trajectory Project and Mass Liberation Project, WangDawg, Forced Trajectory Project and Mass Liberation Project. Middle row (from left to right): Carolina Chacon, Forced Trajectory Project and Mass Liberation Project, Alyssa, friend of the Justin family, Keylee Justin, daughter of Joseph Justin, Joey, brother of Ariah and Keylee Justin, Jorge Gomez, father of LVMPD homicide victim Jorge Antonio Gomez. Bottom row (from left to right): Donna Justin, mother of Joseph Justin, Marcia Wells, niece of LVMPD homicide victim Byron Williams, Nasha Myart, aunt of Sacramento police homicide victim Stephon Clark, Alma Chavez, mother of LVMPD homicide victim Rafael Olivas, and police shooting survivor Terry Rogaczewski. August 22, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.

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