No charges for off-duty officers in fatal shooting of 2 men outside Nebraska bar

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — No charges will be filed against two off-duty officers who shot and killed two men while working security at a nightclub in Nebraska’s largest city because the police chief said one of the men had fired a gun at a group of people including the officers.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said in a statement that he reviewed witness statements and surveillance video and decided the Omaha police officers acted properly in using deadly force in the shooting early Saturday. Police identified the slain men as citizens of Mexico and Nicaragua who were in the country without legal permission.

Police presented a compilation of surveillance video Thursday from outside the Extasis Night Club around 2 a.m. Saturday, shortly after the bar closed. One of the officers had a body camera, but it wasn't turned on until after the shooting.

The video showed an argument with pushing and shoving outside the club between a group of people and the two men. The officers working security at the bar broke that up. Then, as the group was heading across a neighboring business' parking lot, the two men later identified as Fernando Rodriguez-Juarez and Jonathan Hernandez-Rosales pulled up in a Jeep and confronted them.

Police said Rodriguez-Juarez, the driver, held a gun out the passenger window and fired one shot at the group of people that the two officers were behind as they cleared the parking lot. The officers returned fire, shooting 21 times and striking each man three times, according to police.

The Jeep drove away into an alley after the shooting. Officers waited to approach the vehicle until backup arrived with a bullet-resistant shield, and paramedics couldn't get to the men for about eight minutes.

Rodriguez-Juarez, 26, and Hernandez-Rosales, 28, died afterward at a hospital.

Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said investigators determined both men were in the country illegally. Hernandez-Rosales was a citizen of Nicaragua and Rodriguez-Juarez was from Mexico.

Before police released details some community leaders had questioned whether a language barrier kept the officers from communicating with the men. Neither of the officers involved speaks Spanish, but authorities said every Omaha officer is trained to give commands in Spanish.

Schmaderer said investigators aren't sure how well the men understood English though one of them yelled for an ambulance in English after the shooting and the other man made English comments on social media sites. The chief said there was no time for the two officers to issue any commands in English or Spanish before firing their weapons.

"The communication was the gunshot. The officers had to react to that instantly,” Schmaderer said.

The police chief met with community leaders before the news conference, and he said he plans to deliver a detailed briefing on the shooting at a community meeting next week as the department works to rebuild trust with the Latino community.

A national civil rights group, the League of United Latin American Citizens, called for a federal investigation of the shooting to ensure the officers’ actions were warranted.

Elsa Aranda, the Nebraska state director for the group, said a federal probe is needed "to ensure that the truth prevails, rather than accepting a pre-packaged narrative that conveniently absolves those responsible."

The officers have been identified as Capt. Jay Leavitt, a 25-year department veteran, and Officer Robert Soldo, an officer for more than eight years. Leavitt was involved in a different shooting last June that he was cleared in.

In June, Leavitt and another officer were leaving a community meeting when they saw a man with a long gun firing at a house. Leavitt and the other officer opened fire, and the man with the gun was wounded in his wrist. The gunman and three other people with him were arrested.

Last year, there were 1,165 people killed nationwide in shootings involving on-duty police, according to the database maintained by the Washington Post. The number of killings has been above 1,000 every year since 2020.

There were 15 officers nationwide charged with murder or manslaughter last year related to on-duty shootings, according to Bowling Green State University criminal justice professor Philip Stinson. He said statistics aren't readily available on off-duty shootings like the one in Omaha

Robert McCrie, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an expert in security management, said off-duty security jobs are very common throughout the U.S.

“It’s always available as additional income if the police officers seek to do it,” he said.

He noted that businesses wanting someone with law enforcement authority for protection are willing to pay a premium for an officer, making side jobs lucrative. But having an armed officer present instead of just a security guard or bouncer trained in de-escalation techniques does create risks. Only about 5% of security guards nationwide are armed.

“The possibility of a lethal event like this is one of the downsides of having an armed, officer on your premises,” McCrie said.

Often, police departments will track the off-duty jobs their officers take and may even manage these jobs directly and require businesses to go through the department to hire officers. It wasn’t immediately clear how the Omaha department manages these jobs.

“An incident like the one in Omaha can come back and cause severe problems for the department and for the city,” McCrie said.