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Antonio Planas

Two Vegas cops arrested in casino incident

16 January 2009

and Lawrence Mower

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- North Las Vegas detectives arrested two of the department's own officers Thursday, who are suspected of misconduct during a December incident involving a casino patron.

One officer is accused of repeatedly striking a handcuffed California man in the face during the incident. Both officers are accused of lying on a police report.

Police said Mark Alan Miles and James F. Balelo, both 27, were booked into the Clark County Detention Center on charges of filing a false report by a public officer, a gross misdemeanor. Miles also faces a felony charge of oppression under color of office. Both officers have been with the department for almost two years.

This is the second time in consecutive months North Las Vegas police have arrested one of their own. On Dec. 23, James Vernon Clayton, 40, was arrested on charges connected to allegations that he exposed himself and tried to coerce women into sexual activities to get out of traffic tickets.

Miles remained in the county jail Thursday evening on $8,000 bail. Balelo was jailed on $3,000 bail. Miles and Balelo are expected to make their first court appearances Tuesday.

Sgt. Tim Bedwell said Miles and Balelo have been on paid administrative leave since the department's criminal investigation began Dec. 8.

The incident that led to the arrests occurred just before midnight Dec. 6 at the Cannery, 2121 E. Craig Road.

Miles and Balelo were called to the casino to deal with a rowdy bar patron from Diamond Bar, Calif. The 31-year-old man, identified in the officers' arrest report as Luis Enrique Vargas, was handcuffed in a holding cell at the casino after a citizen's arrest was made by security guards.

He was accused of slamming his beer bottle on the casino bar and punching the screen of a video poker machine.

The arrest reports Miles and Balelo filed against Vargas were vastly different than evidence from the actual video surveillance, according to the report filed against the officers.

While in the holding cell at the casino, Miles, without provocation, repeatedly slapped Vargas and baited him to fight, according to the report filed against the officers. Balelo threatened to "bust" Vargas in the face if Vargas didn't stop yelling at the hotel security guards who were standing outside the holding cell.

The reports the officers filed claimed that Vargas had threatened them and attempted to bite and spit on them. The officers also made up threatening quotes and attributed them to Vargas in the reports. The surveillance showed instead that he was compliant with the two officers' requests and did not make any threats, according to the report filed against the officers.

Vargas was handcuffed during the entire incident.

At one point, Miles told Vargas to stand up. Vargas tried to comply and answered, "I'll sit down. I'll sit down for you homie," the report states. Miles then slapped Vargas and said, "I'm not your homie."

Miles then put his face in Vargas' face and said "what-don't-you-get," -- slapping his face four times to punctuate each word -- "I'm not your homie," according to the report.

Later, when Balelo told Vargas he was under arrest for assault with a deadly weapon, Vargas remarked that the officers were "some crooked (expletives)."

Miles replied, "Oh (expletive) dude, what did you say?"

Vargas replied, "Crooked."

Miles then said, "We're some crooked (expletives)," and grabbed Vargas, who was on his knees, by his handcuffed wrists. He slammed Vargas to the ground face-first, according to the report.

"Vargas clearly made no actions that would have made this force necessary or reasonable," the police report on the officers' arrest said.

Bedwell said Vargas didn't need medical attention for his injuries.

Police said Vargas was initially arrested for assault with a deadly weapon against the security guards and resisting arrest. The charges were lowered to disorderly conduct. It was unknown whether he was prosecuted on the charge.

Bedwell said an internal investigation began Thursday, after the officers were arrested. The incidents could lead to their dismissals, Bedwell said.

Bedwell said the officers' supervisor became suspicious of what was written in the police report. Police then called the casino and obtained a video with audio of the incident.

Bedwell said that even if the allegations aren't true, the incident demonstrates why a supervisor always goes over police reports with officers. Supervisors are familiar with what happens in the line of duty because they have been officers, Bedwell said.

"This is exactly why we operate with the level of supervision that we have, so officers don't get out of line."

He added that if a person who isn't a police officer assaulted someone as Miles is accused of assaulting the California man, the crime would not rise to the level of a felony. But police must hold themselves to a higher standard, Bedwell said.

"Police officers have extra power, so there are extra expectations they would not harm anyone in their care."