Last Oct. 25 was the day Nevada shifted from Daylight Savings to
Pacific Standard Time. Tom Gaule, a 42-year-old electronics repairman,
figures that's why the burglars were still in his house when he came home.
"It was an hour later, and that's what goofed 'em up."
Opening the door to his home, near Rainbow and Charleston in west Las
Vegas, Gaule says he was set upon by two men he did not recognize, each
wielding a 100,000-volt electric shock device "bought in a police supply
center under false names. That's twice the voltage of a Tazer, it's some
new type device. It cauterizes and carbonizes. I've got a two-inch long
thing like a glass branch in my neck; at first I thought something
shattered and stuck in me. Then I realized it was between the two contacts
of the electrodes."
Needless to say, this treatment further disoriented the already surprised
Mr. Gaule, as did the beating he says he received "with a golf club and a
crowbar or something, they'd hit me just below the nose and in the lungs.
Most people would have a heart attack. Alls I was trying to do was stop
this guy, and I couldn't understand why I couldn't run. Normally I would
have been able to run after the guy. They sealed their own deaths: had they
not shocked me they would have been captured."
Inside the house, Mr. Gaule managed to break away, retrieve his 12-gauge
pump shotgun, and open fire. "There were several blasts around the house,
there was quite a struggle for the weapon," he recalls. Jason Lamb died on
the premises. Ricky Tripp, though already hit, was shot again and killed as
he fled the house. Presumably as a result of this last shot at a fleeing
attacker, Mr. Gaule will be put on trial in September by Las Vegas
prosecutors on a charge of "voluntary homicide." He will be defended by a
court-appointed attorney who currently "has 147 other cases." Gaule denies
rumors he knew one of the men, or owed either of them money.
Less than six months later, late in the evening of April 12, 1999, Metro
Police Officer Bruce Gentner pulled his cruiser to the side of the street
at Rainbow and Tropicana, about four miles south of Tom Gaule's house, and
ordered John Perrin, 32, who was armed only with a basketball, to stop and
raise his hands. At a coroner's inquest May 7, Officer Gentner testified
that Mr. Perrin failed to follow his orders, instead reaching into his
waistband. Officer Gentner testified he thought he saw Mr. Perrin's hands
close around a weapon -- he turned out to be in possession of a glass
bottle containing iodine crystals, sometimes used in methamphetamine
manufacture -- a bottle on which investigators (curiously) could find no
So, Officer Gentner shot the unarmed Mr. Perrin. Officer Gentner fired
until his magazine was empty, discharging 14 rounds of caliber .40 Smith &
Wesson -- hitting with six, one of them in the chest. But the coroner's
jury voted 6-1 that Officer Gentner's killing of the unarmed Mr. Perrin was
justified; there will be no criminal charges.
At the coroner's inquest, Officer Gentner -- who expressed no remorse at
his actions -- told a tale in which the suspect Perrin made eye contact
with him, and then ran across the street. Meeting another man, Mr. Perrin
-- still in view of the police cruiser, mind you -- then supposedly engaged
in some furtive transfer of property which officer Gentner interpreted as a
drug deal. Et cetera.
Anyone who has read the novels of Joseph Wambaugh is familiar with the
carefully scripted little fairy stories police officers sometimes concoct
when called to account for accosting citizens who are doing no harm. Former
police officer Wambaugh shows how officers who have simply busted in a
motel room door carefully explain on the stand how they first checked the
guest registry, then went to the room in question and found a marijuana
seed on the carpet outside the door, which in turn gave them "reasonable
cause" to search the suspect room, et cetera.
The frequent police attitude in such cases is that if the courts want to
impose requirements which make no sense in the real world, we'll just get
the job done, and then tell them whatever fairy story they want to hear,
Several in the courtroom last Friday found Officer Gentner's testimony
similarly convenient and unconvincing. Brent Bryson, the attorney for the
Perrin family who filed a $25 million civil suit against Metro and Officer
Gentner on Wednesday, called Gentner's testimony "well-rehearsed," pointing
out that three civilian witnesses within earshot failed to hear him shout
any commands at Perrin until after he fired.
The "second man" involved in the alleged drug deal has never been
located. Until Friday, police spokesmen had never mentioned his presence in
explaining details of the case. Since third parties -- like the family's
attorney -- are granted no advance right before the inquest to discover
witness lists or testimony, Mr. Bryson was obviously not prepared to
challenge any of these handy new assertions.
Typical of our Khaki Killers and their fans, one Russell A. Wood wrote a
letter intended for publication in the Review-Journal last week, stating in
"Let us remember that Police Officers are human too. They want to go home
to their families after their daily work is done. John Perrin set an awful
set of circumstances in motion when he failed to comply with very simple
directions. John Perrin chose to turn away from Officer Gentner and thrust
his hands into an area where they could not be seen. ... John Perrin bears
the bulk of the responsibility for the hurt in this case. ... Simple
compliance on Perrin's part would have netted him typical Police
interaction. Perrin, and not Officer Gentner took the incident to a deadly
This is wrong. These might be accurate statements if Mr. Perrin had been
an armed felon fleeing the scene of a bank robbery or a murder. But that
was not the scenario. Officer Gentner initiated this contact. He braced a
citizen who was walking down the sidewalk, armed only with a basketball. If
he was not calm enough, or did not have sufficient training, to deal with
the possible ramifications of such a violation of Mr. Perrin's rights --
yes, a citizen who is doing no harm still has a right to walk down the
street without harassment in this country -- if he was not brave enough to
accept the risk of taking a bullet rather than shooting and killing an
unarmed man, then Officer Gentner was free to let Mr. Perrin alone, or to
call for back-up. Instead, Officer Gentner initiated this incident, and
bears full responsibility for it.
Do we really all deserve to be shot for merely "not following orders"?
Are there no longer any illegal orders? If not, how do we differ from a
nation where people could be shot merely for refusing to board a train to
the concentration camp?
What if any normal "civilian" had acted as Officer Gentner did? Shoot
someone who is unarmed and not advancing on you, and you'll be charged with
manslaughter, if not second degree murder ... even if you've got as much
justification as Tom Gaule, who discovered those burglars in his house last
In such a case, the very same prosecutors who steered the coroner's jury
to their "warranted" verdict last Friday would be cross-examining you in
court, asking sarcastically, "So you were 'in fear for your life' because
this young man armed only with a basketball refused to stand still and
raise his hands? Despite the fact you had a gun and a bulletproof vest? And
were you still 'in fear for your life' after you fired the sixth shot?
After your ninth shot? Tell me, Mr. Defendant, what was it the defendant
did after you'd fired your 12th shot, that put you in such 'fear for your
life' that you felt obliged to fire the 13th and 14th shots?"
Officer Gentner's fellow officers are now celebrating the fact that --
for the 84th time out of 85 coroner's inquests into Las Vegas Metro police
shootings -- their guy walked free.
They shouldn't be so smug. Metro officers are outnumbered, and often
alone. They depend enormously on the goodwill of the citizenry. But what
does a citizenry tend to do when they discover they can find no justice in
the corrupt government courts? It's ugly; it's to be opposed and regretted.
But what people sometimes do is fight back, in a manner called "vigilante
"What this (verdict) says is that you and I and all the tourists that
come to this town ... we all have bull's-eyes on our backs and that the
police can kill you when they don't like the way you answer a question,"
said attorney Bryson after Friday's verdict.
"The only difference between a police officer with a gun and an
individual with a gun is training," adds Tom Gaule last week. "If that's
proper what they did, then what I did was also proper."