Lom­bardo’s re­sponse draw­ing peers’ praise

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Colton Lochhead Las Ve­gas Re­view-jour­nal

As thou­sands scat­tered from the cracks of gun­fire over the Route 91 Har­vest fes­ti­val on Oct. 1, Clark County Sher­iff Joe Lom­bardo was speed­ing down the Strip.

Min­utes ear­lier, Lom­bardo was chat­ting with friends from back East over din­ner at a steak­house in­side the Palazzo.

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A shooter at the Man­dalay Bay had sent down a hail of bul­lets on the nearby coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val crowd.

Lom­bardo bolted from the ta­ble and headed for the scene, past the fes­ti­val grounds and the scores of peo­ple flee­ing the ter­ror.

The shoot­ing had stopped

LOM­BARDO

by the time Lom­bardo ar­rived, and his com­man­ders had the scene un­der con­trol. The sher­iff learned that two Metropoli­tan Po­lice Depart­ment of­fi­cers had been shot, and he raced to the hospi­tal. Both would be fine, he would learn.

Hours later Lom­bardo would learn that off-duty of­fi­cer Charleston Hart­field was shot while at­tend­ing the con­cert. The Hen­der­son man was one of 58 peo­ple killed that night.

“It was a gut punch,” Lom­bardo said in an in­ter­view with the Las Ve­gas Re­view-jour­nal on Tues­day.

The events that night would reg­is­ter as the worst mass shoot­ing in mod­ern U.S. his­tory. Stephen Pad­dock opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 peo­ple from his 32nd-floor suite at Man­dalay Bay, killing 58 peo­ple and in­jur­ing nearly 500 oth­ers.

Lom­bardo’s re­sponse to the tragedy has drawn praise from law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who have led their de­part­ments fol­low­ing mass shoot­ings, and po­lice ex­perts who said his even-keeled de­meanor in the wake of the tragedy helped keep a reel­ing com­mu­nity from pan­ick­ing.

“It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to know what I know, when I know it. Just to calm the pub­lic,” Lom­bardo said.

High marks

For the self-de­scribed in­tro­vert who climbed the ranks of the Metropoli­tan Po­lice Depart­ment, work­ing in the spot­light has been any­thing but nat­u­ral.

By 1:30 a.m. — just over three hours af­ter the shoot­ing — Lom­bardo was un­der the shine of news cam­era lights out­side the depart­ment’s head­quar­ters, his dress shirt from din­ner show­ing un­der his for­est-green po­lice jacket as he re­layed the first of­fi­cial de­tails of the shoot­ing.

His state­ments were con­cise and blunt. He would give four news brief­ings that day. And with each, he seemed more vis­i­bly ex­hausted by the weight of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“I’m not com­fort­able with it. I didn’t ask for it, nor do I want it,” Lom­bardo said. “But I’m there, and hope­fully I’m do­ing a good job.”

Sev­eral for­mer Las Ve­gas po­lice sher­iffs did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment, and the most re­cent for­mer sher­iff, Doug Gille­spie, said he has made it a point since re­tir­ing in 2014 to re­frain from speak­ing about Las Ve­gas po­lice mat­ters.

But Lom­bardo’s peers in other law en­force­ment agen­cies say he has han­dled him­self well in the wake of tragedy.

“Noth­ing can re­ally pre­pare you for some­thing like this,” said John Mina, who is po­lice chief in Or­lando, Flor­ida.

Mina’s depart­ment over­saw the re­sponse to the Pulse night­club mas­sacre, in which 49 peo­ple were killed and 53 in­jured last year. The June 12, 2016, shoot­ing was then the worst mass shoot­ing in mod­ern U.S. his­tory.

“I think he’s done a great job,” Mina added.

Jar­rod Bur­guan, the po­lice chief in San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia, said it’s im­por­tant for the face of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be re­as­sur­ing and make the pub­lic feel like things are un­der con­trol.

“The folks in the com­mu­nity re­ally look to you,” he said.

In De­cem­ber 2015, Bur­guan headed the po­lice re­sponse when two peo­ple opened fire on a Christ­mas party at a San Bernardino County govern­ment build­ing. Four­teen peo­ple were killed; 22 oth­ers were in­jured.

“You have this re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and mak­ing sure it gets done right,” Bur­guan said last week. “But you also have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to take care of your com­mu­nity, to make sure they are calm, and re­as­sured.”

“And I thought he (Lom­bardo) did a pretty good job at that,” Bur­guan added.

The na­tional spot­light also brings in­ten­si­fied scru­tiny. And a re­cent change to the time­line of events has di­rected pointed crit­i­cism at Lom­bardo and Metro.

On Mon­day, a full week af­ter the shoot­ing, Lom­bardo re­vised some key de­tails of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He noted that Je­sus Cam­pos, the Man­dalay Bay se­cu­rity guard who was shot in the leg while check­ing on an open-door alarm on the 32nd floor, was the first per­son shot by Pad­dock that night, some six min­utes be­fore the shooter opened fire on the con­cert crowd. Lom­bardo ini­tially said Cam­pos was shot af­ter Pad­dock un­leashed the fa­tal bar­rage.

Fox News per­son­al­ity Tucker Carlson said dur­ing his show Wed­nes­day that the re­vised time­line “doesn’t seem to make any sense at all” and ques­tioned why the pub­lic should be­lieve po­lice go­ing for­ward.

“This shakes the pub­lic’s faith in any­thing the in­ves­ti­ga­tors say,” Carlson said.

But changes in de­tails are in­evitable in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of this mag­ni­tude, for­mer Aurora Po­lice Chief Dan Oates said. Oates, now the chief of po­lice in Mi­ami Beach, Flor­ida, headed the po­lice re­sponse when a shooter killed 12 peo­ple and in­jured 70 oth­ers at a movie the­ater in Aurora, Colorado.

“Given the scale and com­plex­ity, as a po­lice pro­fes­sional, I’m not par­tic­u­larly trou­bled if some early facts shift,” Oates said.

An­swers elu­sive

It wasn’t un­til Oct. 3, the Tues­day morn­ing af­ter the shoot­ing, that Lom­bardo walked the grounds of the Route 91 Har­vest fes­ti­val. Even 36 hours later, grisly re­minders of the car­nage re­mained.

“There were still bodies,” Lom­bardo said.

That same morn­ing, the sher­iff walked past the roughly 200 bul­let holes that rid­dled the 32nd-floor hall­way, ev­i­dence of when Pad­dock fired at Cam­pos.

Lom­bardo saw the cache of as­sault ri­fles and high-ca­pac­ity ammo clips stacked up on the floor of the suite and the body of the shooter with a bul­let wound to his head.

“It’s some­thing you can never imag­ine. It’s some­thing you never hope takes place in my ten­ure as sher­iff,” he said.

But with ex­pe­ri­ence lead­ing Metro’s search-and-res­cue team and its home­land se­cu­rity di­vi­sion, Lom­bardo has de­vel­oped some emo­tional cal­luses that have helped him push through.

“Thirty years in the busi­ness, you tend to get numb and drive on. You know it will even­tu­ally slow down for you,” Lom­bardo said. “I think it’s im­por­tant for me to bite my lip and grin and bear through it.”

By the time of the Oct. 4 news con­fer­ence, Lom­bardo was fiery, even com­bat­ive with the me­dia as he crit­i­cized ques­tions that asked him to spec­u­late about the de­tails of the shoot­ing.

He didn’t sleep much in the week af­ter the shoot­ing, partly be­cause of the sheer amount of work that needed to be done. A con­stant thought clawed at his mind when he tried to get some rest.

“Part of me los­ing sleep,” he said, “is, did I miss some­thing? Did I fail to do some­thing? Did my peo­ple fail to do some­thing?”

The only sleep he got in those first few days would come on what he called the “nasty lit­tle couch” in his of­fice at po­lice head­quar­ters near down­town Las Ve­gas.

“I fi­nally got some sub­stan­tial sleep last night,” Lom­bardo said Tues­day, more than a week af­ter the shoot­ing.

By Tues­day’s in­ter­view with the Re­view-jour­nal editorial board, Lom­bardo seemed col­lected and re­freshed.

But some­thing still eats at him: What mo­ti­vated the shooter to un­leash such ter­ror?

“You im­me­di­ately think you’re gonna know the rea­sons why in the short term. Now, here we are a week af­ter the fact, and we still don’t know,” the frus­trated Lom­bardo said as he shook his head, clearly un­set­tled by the lack of in­for­ma­tion.

He knows how im­por­tant those an­swers are to not only his in­ves­ti­ga­tors but also to the vic­tims and ev­ery­one af­fected by the mas­sacre.

“I think there needs to be some clo­sure for my­self, for the Po­lice Depart­ment and the pub­lic.”

Con­tact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@re­viewjour­nal.com or 702-383-4638. Fol­low @Colton­lochhead on Twit­ter.

Sher­iff Joe Lom­bardo

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