LAS VEGAS, NV — An attorney who survived being shot in the back by police now faces up to 12 years in prison after a drawn out trial.
The incident occurred when Raymond James “Jim” Duensing was pulled over by a motorcycle cop in a routine traffic stop near Cheyenne Avenue and Jones Boulevard. Allegedly Mr. Duensing had crossed an intersection using a lane designated for right-turns only at approximately 2:30 p.m. on October 29, 2009.
After running the driver’s license, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Officer David Gilbert determined that there was an existing misdemeanor arrest warrant for Mr. Duensing because of outstanding traffic ticket(s).
Duensing, 33 years old at the time and practicing law in Pahrump, was asked to exit his vehicle and then told he was under arrest. The attorney requested to know why he was being arrested. With his hands above his head, Mr. Duensing tried to use reason with the officer.“I was calmly speaking to the cop, attempting to talk my way out of being taken to jail over an unpaid High-Occupancy Vehicle ticket.”
“I was calmly speaking to the cop, attempting to talk my way out of being taken to jail over an unpaid High-Occupancy Vehicle ticket,” Duensing later explained.
What happened next remains in dispute. At some point, communication broke down and Officer Gilbert began tasing Mr. Duensing.
Officer Gilbert testified that Duensing did not turn around on command and that he “took a fighting stance.” The officer claimed that he needed to shock Mr. Duensing to gain his compliance.
Duensing says that the shock came unexpectedly, and when he felt the electricity run through him, he feared for his life because he has a heart condition.
“As I have had heart problems since my premature birth, I believe a Taser to be a lethal weapon. Several people without heart conditions have been killed by this weapon,” he wrote. Duensing said that his instincts took over and he removed the Taser’s prongs from his chest, and began running. He wrote from his hospital bed, “I firmly believe this instinct saved my life.”
Duensing later testified that running away “wasn’t really a conscious decision.” He added: “I was trying to process what was going on. I thought he had the wrong person.”
As Duensing ran from the electric assault, he heard the Taser fire again, but didn’t feel another shock. Instead, he heard three gunshots and noticed that his left arm was dangling. He had been shot from behind with a .45 handgun.
Mr. Duensing worked not only in practicing law but also as at a firearms instructor at a gun range. He was carrying a pistol and a pocketknife at the time he was shot. There is major disagreement between the parties about when the officer knew there was a gun in Duensing’s pocket.
After being shot, Duensing wrote, “it was at this point that he found my licensed and registered pistol in my right cargo pants pocket and my Emerson folding knife in my right front pocket.” He added: “I NEVER pulled either of these items out of my pockets.” He insisted that his hands were empty as he ran, and afemale witness asserted the same thing.
But Officer Gilbert claimed that Duensing tried to draw his gun while running, and shot Duensing in order to save lives. The Las Vegas Review Journal elaborated on the discrepancy of facts:
Defense lawyer Tom Pitaro tried to show that Gilbert could not have seen Duensing’s gun because it was tucked in the buttoned-up cargo pocket. A knife in his right hip pocket was not found by police until after he was shot.
Gilbert said he thought Duensing’s gun flew from his hands and into the air after he was shot.
Officers at the scene later found the gun in the cargo pocket.
“You’re relieved they found a gun after you shot someone,” Pitaro said.
Gilbert responded: “I’m relieved that it was found so it wasn’t there for a little kid to pick it up.”
Duensing suffered gunshot wounds to his chest, abdomen, and left arm. He survived the attack, but required multiple surgeries and never fully rehabilitated.
Having fallen victim to alleged police brutality, Jim Duensing wanted justice for what was done to him. However, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson made sure that didn’t happen. Duensing was charged with 3 felonies: resisting a police officer, carrying a concealed weapon, and unlawful possession of a firearm.
The bases for the charges were tenuous at best. Duensing possessed a valid Nevada Carrying Concealed Weapons (CCW) Permit, but the prosecution argued that his permit was invalidated because of the outstanding traffic warrant. Additionally, they claimed his pocketknife was to be considered a “dangerous or deadly weapon” under NRS 202.350.1.d.3, and therefore illegal to carry concealed. Ironically, openly carrying a firearm or a knife is legal in Nevada, meaning the arbitrary placement of one’s property literally differentiates a law-abiding citizen from a felon-to-be.
The case against Duensing dragged on for over five years, and was characterized by a lack of transparency. As he explained in a statement in 2010:
To protect “their” officers against the civil charges stemming from officer David M. Gilbert’s abuse of power and attempted homicide of Jim Duensing, the prosecutor denied Jim a public pre-trial hearing and instead has charged Jim with felony resisting arrest through a secret Grand Jury hearing he wasn’t even able to attend or learn the specific time of until it was completed.
The Las Vegas “Use of Force Board” — comprised of 4 civilians and 3 LVMPD members — made aunanimous decision that Officer Gilbert was justified in shooting Duensing. The process was kept completely secretive and anonymous. The defense was not allowed to know what evidence was presented or how the conclusion was reached. Duensing and his attorney fought unsuccessfully to obtain potential video evidence from the taser as well as a police helicopter that was on the scene moments after the shooting. There were no cameras on the police motorcycle.
In 2014, still awaiting trial, Duensing decided to run for the office of district attorney — against the incumbent who was seeking to imprison him.
“There’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the way the office is being run,” specifically the handling of officer-involved shootings, Duensing told the Las Vegas Review Journal. “No matter what they (police) do on duty, they will be backed up by their department and the DA and that means there will be zero accountability.”
Duensing’s D.A. race turned out to be unsuccessful, and on November 10th, 2014, he was convicted on all three felony counts. He now awaits sentencing in January 2015, which will consist of 1-12 years in prison. He may also lose his law license, and as a convicted felon will never be able to legally own a gun again.
There will be a chance for an appeal, but that will require help from readers. Please find the information below for how to send Jim Duensing letters or financial help.
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Recall that this whole ordeal arose over a so-called “High-Occupancy Vehicle” (HOV) ticket. A HOV ticket is issued, in certain states, when a car enters in a designated “carpool lane” while carrying too few passengers. It is truly among the most mundane of offenses, yet it led to a warrant and the confrontation that would change Jim Duensing’s life forever.
Duensing’s situation exemplifies how every law has the potential to kill and destroy lives and families. Every offense, no matter how trivial, is ultimately backed by armed men who are willing to use violence. And when the number of offenses becomes innumerable, the police state can crush anyone, even a professional driving home from work on a Thursday afternoon.