Before bullets flew in an exchange of gunfire between a suspect and a Metro Police officer, leaving the man dead and the officer wounded, Miguel Salas spent minutes sitting in the driver’s side of a pickup truck repeatedly asking why the policemen — who were investigating a stolen cellphone — wanted him out of the vehicle.
Officer Richard Nelson, 33, who was hit by a round that made its way through a gap in his bulletproof vest — in the armpit area — and dug into his chest and through his lower back, is OK and at home after being medically cleared, Clark County Assistant Sheriff Tom Roberts said Friday.
Nelson and his partner, who barely dodged injury, are “very lucky” to be alive, Roberts said.
Salas, 25, wasn’t as fortunate.
As he fired nine rounds, divided evenly between the officers who scattered in opposite directions, Nelson returned fire, pulling the trigger 10 times, pumping one bullet into Salas’ head.
Investigators originally thought Salas was hit in the shootout, but later took own his life, because from a distance, officers could see him breathing but couldn’t approach him due to him being armed and not complying with police commands.
So Salas sat gravely wounded and Metro — deeming the incident a barricade with an armed-and-dangerous suspect — dispatched SWAT. It wasn’t until officers approached alongside armored vehicles that they discovered he had died.
Roberts said Salas likely wouldn’t had survived the wound even if police had gotten to him earlier.
For the 15th time this year — the fifth in less than a month — the shooting was captured in the officers' body-worn cameras. Those videos were exhibited publicly by Roberts for the first time on Friday.
The images depict what began as a routine call about stolen property quickly escalating to loud bangs and tense moments.
The aftermath also was recorded. “Shots fired; I’ve been hit. Shots fired, I’m hit,” Nelson tells dispatch as he coughs. He later expresses that he’s having trouble breathing, something obvious from the video’s audio.
An arriving sergeant rushes him to University Medical Center. “The decision by that sergeant was critical in helping him to ensure that Officer Nelson survived this incident,” Roberts said.
The buildup to the shooting began two days earlier.
The 911 caller on Tuesday had his vehicle broken into at a valley grocery store.
That person tracked his stolen phone through GPS technology to a pickup truck parked in front of 4185 Tompkins Ave., and he arrived at the scene and called 911 at 2:15 p.m.
Nelson and his partner arrived at 4:09 p.m. and found Salas sitting inside the truck, which was stolen nearby last month, Roberts said. At the time they didn’t know the vehicle and the license plates on it were stolen.
For the next six minutes, Nelson and his partner interacted with Salas, who was evasive and at least twice tried turning the car on.
Salas did not present an ID — which he said was somewhere inside the truck: “I swear to God, it’s right here” — and refused to step out.
“I’m asking you to step out, man,” Nelson says. “Just get out of the car.”
“Why, why, come on dude, I’m not doing anything wrong,” Salas says. “Why, why, what the hell.”
Police ask him to relax and sometime during the interaction, Nelson grabs on to Salas’ left arm and tries to open the door, but Salas shuts it.
“Why do you guys want me to get out,” Salas says.
“Because it’s safer for us,” responds one of the officers.
“Do you want to get (shocked)?” an officer asks.
In a sudden move soon after, Salas grabs a Glock 23 sitting next to his right leg and begins firing, first at the second officer, and then at Nelson, Roberts said.
Nelson’s partner was struck on his work belt, but wasn’t wounded, and didn’t realize it until hours later, Roberts said.
Not many details on Salas were released Friday. Roberts said investigators spoke to his family, who told them that he’d recently lost his job and had other unspecified problems. He’s been convicted in six Nevada cases ranging from drug possession to robbery, at least one being a felony, since had he survived, he would have faced two charges of carrying firearms illegally. Police found a second gun in the truck.
He would have also faced counts of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, Roberts said.
Investigators recovered the stolen phone inside the truck and returned it to its owner, who witnessed the shooting.
Roberts wouldn’t speculate on what may have led to Salas firing the gun, but said: “My guess is he pretty much knew that once the police dug into what he was going to do, they were going to end up arresting him, holding him accountable for the crimes that he did.”
The assistant sheriff also opined that he wished the officers would have pulled Salas out of the vehicle sooner.
Before the briefing commenced, Roberts began by praising all Metro officers.
“It’s been a tough month for us,” he said. “Every one of those (police shootings) has involved somebody or a suspect trying to harm us or harm our officers.”
“Despite that, our workforce is out there, day in and day out serving you and this community the way you expect us to,” he said. “Sometimes is pretty thankless and there’s not a lot of people that can do it.”
Once again, reporters asked Roberts what’s behind an increase of police shootings — Metro was involved in 12 total shootings last year, six between January and August.
It’s an issue the agency is looking into, Roberts said. Although there is no trend and they’re hard to predict, he mentioned a growing problem in Southern Nevada and nationwide — one being a rise in violent crime and the other the accessibility of guns “in our community and country.”
There are more guns being bought and stolen from homes, Roberts said.