Las Vegas SWAT Team no show night of massacre, delayed entry into gunman’s room - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Las Vegas SWAT Team no show night of massacre, delayed entry into gunman’s room

LAS VEGAS: As police responded to the stairwell outside of Stephen Paddocks room, one officer would say over the radio, “Hold the stairwell and we’ll wait for the Zebra Team for the plan.”

But where was the Zebra Team?

It appears that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s elite 40-member Special Weapons and Tactics team known as the Zebra Team were pretty much a no show inside the Mandalay Bay the night of the worst mass shooting in US history which occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1.

Fifty-eight people were killed and over 500 others were injured during the attack.

Stephen Paddock opened fire at 10:05 p.m. and continued firing for ten minutes from his 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Hotel raining down a hail of bullets into a crowd of 22,000 concert goers at the Route 91 Music Festival, police said.

The LVMPD came under scrutiny after the Oct. 1 massacre when questions were raised as to why it took police one hour and five minutes after Paddock had ceased firing to enter the suite.

The Baltimore Post-Examiner has learned that LVMPD SWAT Officer, Levi Hancock, was concerned because other members of his SWAT Team were not available to enter the suite with him.

Sergeant Joshua Bitsko and Officer Dave Newton of the K-9 Unit, Detectives Casey Clarkson and Matthew Donaldson, essentially became Hancock’s ad-hoc SWAT Team. All four of those officers appeared on the CBS news program, 60 Minutes, the Sunday following the attack. Hancock did not appear on the show, but they did show a photograph of him.

Although Clark County Sheriff, Joe Lombardo and Undersheriff, Kevin McMahill, the two top cops leading the LVMPD led the public to believe that the SWAT Team had entered Paddock’s room, the truth was that only one member of the Team would enter the suite, Levi Hancock.

At 11:20 p.m. Hancock is heard on the police radio, “We need to pop this and see if we can get any type of response from this guy, to see if he’s in here or he’s actually moved somewhere else.”

Hancock was armed with explosive charges to blow through the front door of Paddock’s suite.

The dispatcher would broadcast, “All units on the 32nd floor, SWAT has explosive breach, all units move back.”

Then Hancock says, “Breach, breach, breach,” and the sound of an explosion is heard over the radio.

After the explosive breach, Hancock led his ad-hoc entry team into Stephen Paddock’s room, 32-135.

Police would say they found Paddock dead on the floor, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Although it was broadcast over the radio that night that one SWAT officer did fire his weapon and that there were no other injuries, Sheriff Joe Lombardo would hold that back from the public for one month before admitting that an officer did fire his weapon.

Lombardo has yet to explain the circumstances of the discharge.

Where were Levi Hancock’s other SWAT Team members that night and why was it that he had to enter Paddock’s room with four other officers that he never worked with before.

Don’t get me wrong, all five of those officers were heroic that night. They had no idea who was in that room any how many suspects they might encounter. That is not the issue.

SWAT Teams practice and hone their skills by working as a team. They know each other’s moves in a tactical operation, that what keeps them alive.

So, the big question here is why Levi Hancock was the only member of his team in that stairwell.

Paddock’s room wasn’t breached for over one hour since he ceased firing. In all that time, no other member of the SWAT Team arrived to assist Hancock, not even just four members.

What makes the whole matter worse was that Sergeant Joshua Bitsko and Officer Dave Newton of the K-9 Unit were training dogs when they heard the call go out. They said they jumped in their cars and hopped on the freeway and were there probably within five minutes.

Detective Matthew Donaldson was doing paperwork at headquarters. He sped nine miles to the Mandalay Bay.

Detective Casey Clarkson was inside the concert venue when the shots rang out. He was hit in the neck with a piece of shrapnel but shrugged it off and made his way to the Mandalay Bay.

Where was the LVMPD SWAT Team that night and when or if did they arrive on scene.

The LVMPD requested the assistance of the other three SWAT Teams in Clark County that night; The FBI, Henderson Police and North Las Vegas SWAT Teams.

They also requested three armored vehicles from a private company, Battlefield Vegas.

On Nov. 2 Lombardo told a local television reporter that they had to get into Paddock’s room because they did not want him to reload and continue firing. Really, so they had to wait one hour and five minutes after Paddock stopped firing. Makes no sense.

Then Lombardo said that if Paddock had opened fire again the officers would have immediately made entry. That’s real nice, wait until he starts killing more people then they would have made entry sooner.

Nothing about this makes much sense. Nothing what Sheriff Lombardo makes any sense.

The citizens of Clark County need to know why no other members of the LVMPD’s elite Zebra Team was on site that night to assist SWAT Officer Levi Hancock in making entry into Paddock’s room. That night nobody knew if this was a terrorist incident and who or what might be inside that room.

If there was ever a need for a rapid response by a SWAT Team it was the night of the worse mass shooting in US history, October 1, 2017.

Note: Detective Kelly Clarkson was not involved in the entry team.  He had remained in the concert venue assisting people getting out, even though he had sustained an injury to his neck. 

 


About the author

Doug Poppa

Doug Poppa is a US Army Military Police Veteran, former law enforcement officer, criminal investigator and private sector security and investigations management professional with 40 years of experience. In 1986 Mr. Poppa was awarded “Criminal Investigator of the Year” by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia for his undercover work in narcotics enforcement. He was also re-assigned to the Northern Virginia Regional Narcotics Enforcement Task Force for 18 months. In 1991 and again in 1992 Mr. Poppa’s testimony under oath in court led to the discovery that exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense by the prosecutor and sheriff’s office officials during the 1988 trial of a man accused of attempted murder of his wife that led to his conviction. As a result of his testimony the man was ordered released from prison, given a new trial in 1992 and found not guilty. Mr. Poppa became the subject of local and national news media attention as a result of his testimony which led to the demise of his 12-year police career. After losing his job, at the request of the FBI, Mr. Poppa infiltrated in an undercover capacity a group of men who were plotting the kidnapping of a Dupont Chemical fortune heir and his wife in 1992. His stories have been featured on Inside Edition, A Current Affair, and CBS News’ Street Stories with Ed Bradley. Contact the author.
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