Lawyer: Reno boy shot by school cop had been bullied

Scott Sonner
Associated Press

Reno, Nev. — An emotionally distressed 14-year-old armed with a knife had been bullied and beaten and was trying to escape from a crowd of classmates this week who had gathered to capture video of an anticipated fight when a campus police officer shot the boy, his lawyer told The Associated Press on Friday.

The Reno teen remained in critical condition after he was shot Wednesday in the chest, but is stable and showing signs of improvement, said David Houston, a prominent Reno attorney who said he hired by the boy’s father to defend him against any potential criminal charges.

Houston said he is still reviewing videos of the shooting posted on social media but said several suggest none of the students felt threatened by the knife-wielding boy and many appeared shocked when the officer opened fire in a high school courtyard.

“Those kids were alerted there was going to be a beat-down at a specific time and a specific location. They had amassed with their cellphones for the purpose of filming it,” Houston told the AP.

He added: “Half the student body is out there cheering them on. He’d been punched in the face and was running around screaming, ‘Get away from me!’ He was trying to extricate himself from a situation that had become like spectators in the Roman coliseum.”

One online video appears to show the teen wielding a large knife in a circle of dozens of onlookers. Another appears to capture the sound of a single gunshot and several students screaming before the camera shows the boy writhing in pain on the ground. A student’s voice says, “They shot the kid.”

“The video tells the story,” Houston said. “No one anticipated the officer is going to shoot the kid.”

“There was no attempt to calm the situation. There was not this genuine sense of panic or alarm by the students watching until the officer attempted to execute the 14-year-old who was screaming, ‘Get away from me,’” he said.

No charges have been filed. The campus officer has been placed on paid administrative leave while Reno police lead an investigation into the officer-involved shooting.

“Any charging considerations are a part of that process,” Washoe County District Attorney spokeswoman Michelle Bays said Friday, declining further comment until the investigation is complete.

Reno Police Chief Jason Soto said earlier the boy threatened other students and failed to comply with the officer’s orders to drop the knife before the officer shot him.

School Superintendent Traci Davis said Friday she continues to believe “the officer’s judgment saved other students from deadly force.”

The school district’s chief lawyer criticized Houston for speaking out on behalf of his client.

“It is disappointing to think that such a tragic event can be sensationalized by one side and by the media in order to spread false truths, innuendos, and disparage the efforts of a law enforcement officer protecting children,” said the lawyer, Neil A. Rombardo.

Houston’s past clients have included ex-pro wrestler Hulk Hogan and Joe Francis, founder of the “Girls Gone Wild” video empire.

He said the boy “brought some kitchen knives to school” because he feared “he’d get jumped by the same group of seniors who had beaten him the day before.”

Houston said the officer could have tried more to calm the boy down and convince him to put the knife down.

“They could have said, ‘It’s OK, nobody is going to hurt you,’ ” Houston said. “One of the primary rules of our society is we don’t shoot our children. We simply don’t shoot first and ask questions later.”