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From behind the badge to behind bars:

a nightmare involving Ambien and police

- by Terry Rogaczewski -

· FTP Media Lab

Story by Terry Rogaczewski

Cover photo by Eduardo Rossal Cabrera

My name is Terry Rogaczewski. On November 3rd, 2012, I became a survivor of police brutality by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police (LVMPD). I was then wrongfully incarcerated and highly impacted by the shady cash bail system that we have here in Las Vegas and across America.  I am also a victim of Big Pharma.

I’ll tell you a little bit about my life before I go into the details of my incident with LVMPD. Since I was young (as my great grandmother would say “knee high to a grasshopper”), I was always helping others less fortunate than I was, including animals. I volunteered my time and rescued seals, sea lions, dolphins and even whales along the California coast. I then became an Ocean Lifeguard and started saving human lives. This led me to a 20-year career of helping others. I worked as an ocean lifeguard, an EMT/paramedic working in ambulances, on search and rescue teams and I was even a part of national disaster response teams like the ones that lead me to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, among other high profile emergencies.

Terry training dolphins at Six Flags, Valencia, CA, circa 1992. Courtesy of Terry Rogaczewski

In 2007, I became a park ranger for the National Park Service. I worked in parks all over, including the US Virgin Islands, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Everglades National Parks. While working for the Park Service, I had to keep up my EMT and law enforcement credentials, and I was also trained as a structure and wildland firefighter. I guess you can say I was a jack of all trades!

I moved to Las Vegas from Yellowstone National Park to work at Lake Mead National Recreation Area but due to cuts in the budget, I had to secure a job with Nellis Air Force Base as a federal civilian law enforcement officer.

Terry during firefighter training as a national law enforcement park ranger with firefighter 1 and paramedic certifications, circa 2010. Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy of Terry Rogaczewski

This is where my story takes the big turn . . .

On November 3rd, 2012, the eve of my first day on the job at Nellis Air Force Base, I took my prescription sleep aid Ambien. Because of this and the combination of a Benadryl that I took earlier I finally fell asleep. A few hours later in what sleep experts call the “Ambien Zombie effect,” or in better English terms “Sleepwalking,” I woke up in a trance-like state, got fully dressed, loaded my duty firearm and went to the downstairs of my apartment complex. I then walked to the parking lot of the complex and began to stop cars from entering into the complex just as I would have been doing as part of my job at Nellis Air Force Base the very next morning.

Now, a little about Ambien for those of you that are not aware: Ambien is a sedative hypnotic with amnesic properties that tricks your brain into sleeping. Ambien is known to cause you to do what is most nipping at your brain and these issues were brought to the public spotlight by famous individuals like Tom Brokaw, Tiger Woods, and members of the Kennedy family. The FDA did not put out any public warnings until January of 2013, just months after my incident with the Las Vegas Metropolitan police (LVMPD). Warnings include sleep driving, sleep walking, sleep eating which are among the most common but other dangerous side effects including suicide, murder, rape, and even mass shootings. This popular and very widely used medication can make you do very complex and dangerous things and you’ll have absolutely no recollection of doing them.

The first car that I stopped drove off without incident but the second car that drove in, a Cadillac driven by a man known to LVMPD vice officers as a pimp and drug dealer, stopped in the road just in front of me. According to his recorded statement he was there to retrieve one of his working girls but when he saw me standing in the road blocking him from moving forward, he tried to drive around me, or in his words, “through me,” but when he saw that I had a firearm, he stopped and threw his car into reverse and backed up into a wall. He then got out of his car and hopped over the wall and ran across the street. For whatever reason I slept-walked over to his car and fired my weapon into the front grill of his car. No one was hurt or injured!

On-duty plainclothes LVMPD officers Theadore Snodgrass and Dave Denton were next door at a drinking establishment when they heard the shots fired. Without calling for assistance or letting their dispatch know that shots were being fired (which is police protocol), they drove over in their unmarked vehicle to investigate. Both officers arrived and stated (in their recorded statements) that when they saw me standing in front of the Cadillac, I appeared to be intoxicated, stumbling around, and they thought I was involved in an accident. When the passenger officer, Denton, got out of the car to try and talk with me, he stated that I turned around and fired my weapon at him four to seven times and that is why he and his partner had to return fire. Between the both of them, they fired a total of 21 rounds at me from approximately eight to sixteen feet striking me twice in the left shoulder. After being shot I laid down on the ground (most likely from a combination of the sleeping medication kicking back in and from being shot) and they continued to fire at me striking me again across the abdomen. When they finally stopped shooting they called for assistance.

Terry stands in the exact place at the Town & Country Manor III where he was shot at on November 3, 2012 by Las Vegas Metropolitan police officers Dave Denton and Theodore Snodgrass. Every year on the anniversary of the shooting, Terry visits the site to reflect on the incident and his life. May 24, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Nissa Tzun

By the time the officers were done shooting, Terry had laid down bleeding out on the ground by this curb. Courtesy of Terry Rogaczewski

I was taken to the hospital and put in the ICU. I was on a ventilator for two days and spent a total of seven days before being taken to Clark County Detention Center (CCDC). I was held on a $500,000 bail for attempted murder and assault on the officers. The LVMPD homicide detectives told me officers’ Snodgrass and Denton’s version of what happened, and explained that I was now under arrest.

Terry at the hospital after the shooting. November, 2012, Las Vegas, NV. Courtesy of Terry Rogaczewski

It was almost one year until I had my preliminary trial when I learned that I NEVER fired my weapon at the officers. It was determined by LVMPD CSI that my weapon was empty before the officers even arrived on the scene that night. I learned the reason the officers were shooting at me was because when Denton made contact with me he saw that I had the unloaded weapon in my hand and was spooked. When he went to retreat backwards he tripped over his own two feet. When he landed on the ground, his weapon discharged a round into a tree branch, causing his Snodgrass to then react believing that I had just shot at them. Again, 21 rounds were fired at me because a police officer tripped over his own two feet! It was also during the preliminary trial that my attorney and I found out that Denton was arrested by Henderson Police for a DUI while on duty just months prior to my incident. His arrest was concealed and he was returned back to work without any discipline.

After sitting in CCDC for five years fighting my case again with a $500,000 bail but still no recollection of the events that took place that night, I began to learn that my case was not about me shooting my weapon at the Cadillac. Rather, it was about a department trying to cover up a bad shooting and how two of their officers were drunk on the job. The prosecution and judge on my case refused to believe Ambien had anything to do with this event and even said on the record that Ambien does not cause people to sleepwalk.

Because medical care is so bad in both jail and prison, I almost lost my arm. CCDC wasn’t equipped to deal with my type of injury so they just left my arm in a sling for two years without any physical therapy or advanced medical attention. They even talked about amputating my arm as an idea to solve the problem. On top of all this, the two officers that shot me were recognized and given medals of valors for shooting me, despite the truth being known that they made false and inaccurate statements to detectives about my incident! They were given eight months of paid vacation during the investigation and then returned back to work.

Terry Rogaczewski accepts an Alford plea for the November 3, 2012 incident . March 30, 2016, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Jerry Henkel, Las Vegas Review Journal

It wasn’t until officer Denton was arrested again for a second on-duty DUI that I was given the opportunity to accept a fictitious plea deal of discharging of a firearm inside of a structure. When I say fictitious, it means that it’s a charge that I was not originally charged with because they needed to figure out a charge with a sentence structure that matched the time that I had already spent incarcerated.

LVMPD officers Dave Denton (left) and Theodore Snodgrass (right) were awarded medals of valor for shooting Terry, even though it was found by homicide detectives on scene that Terry never fired a single shot at them. Article by Joe Schoenmann, Las Vegas Sun, July 14, 2014.

I accepted this plea because I did fire my weapon that night and at the time, it felt like the right thing to do. I took responsibility for my actions that night even though I know I’m not exactly liable because I was under the influence of Ambien, a prescription medicine that I had been on for years. So after five years in CCDC, I was finally sent to prison for three months and released.

Now I am a felon.

Going from behind the badge to behind bars has definitely been the nightmare of my life.

Being a felon now means that I can no longer hold a professional certification and work as a paramedic or ocean lifeguard, or work as a park ranger, or even to help save animals. I have had extreme difficulty finding work, housing, and even lost friends because of my felony status. The trauma, PTSD, and nightmares that have come from this one single life event has changed me forever. I’ll never be the same. I’m currently taking six different psych medications, including a medication that stops me from dreaming when I sleep just because my nightmares get so bad.

Now the dirty, nasty, and corrupt prison system that they say is for reforming and correcting bad behavior, that in my opinion should not be for anyone, is definitely not for gay people. I am a gay man and let me tell you how hard it is to be incarcerated as a gay man. Every day is filled with fear of getting jumped, beat up or even raped if anyone found out that I was gay. The term “Watch your back, Jack!” took on a whole new meaning in prison. This is an everyday occurrence and is either ignored by prison staff and guards altogether, or in most cases the victim is punished for being gay by being put into solitary confinement after being beat up or raped.

Terry Rogaczewski (far left), along with families impacted by police homicide (holding the banner on the right side is Alma Chavez, mother of Rafael Olivas, killed by LVMPD on July 14, 2011) and supporters gather in front of LVMPD headquarters to demand accountability for the police homicide of Byron Williams, who was killed on September 5, 2019, after he was in-custody of the LVMPD, arrested for allegedly not having a safety light on his bicycle. September 14, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Nissa Tzun

Since my release I’ve been seeking a pardon from Governor Sisolak. The pardon will release me not only from my parole but it will take away my felony conviction, seal my record and allow me to go back to my life before this mess. I want nothing more than to be able to help others again. But this brings me to my next issue with LVMPD. Within the few years I have been getting harassed by members of the LVMPD problem solving unit. They have been warning me to watch my back, lay low, and forget about getting my pardon. This is the same unit that the officers who shot me belonged to. My feeling is that going to the pardon board, this department is worried that the truth about the shooting and how the officers were intoxicated will finally come out. These incidents have caused me to wear a body camera. After a few trial runs with different cameras, the camera I have now downloads automatically to a cloud. I have had my previous camera taken from me and its contents erased by officers who had just harassed me. Obviously, video of the harassments and the truth coming out would be very embarrassing to a police department that claims they are the national standard of police excellence in training and procedures.

I would like to ask for your support and if you would please sign the petition. This petition will be sent to the governor and the pardon board in hopes that they will allow me to have a hearing.

Thank you to the Forced Trajectory Project for allowing me to tell my story, and for featuring me in their docuseries, Residuum, which can be accessed below.

Residuum, Episode 3: Waking up to an Ambien Nightmare, Part One. Directed by Nissa Tzun, produced for ChangeWire.org

Residuum, Episode 4: Waking up to an Ambien Nightmare, Part Two. Directed by Nissa Tzun, produced for ChangeWire.org

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