Highlands students claim racial profiling after dispute with police
May 10, 2018 10:39 PM
LAS VEGAS, N.M. — A confrontation between Highlands University students and Las Vegas police caught on cell phone video early Saturday morning resulted in one student with two black eyes and other with several bruises on his body.
Though graduating senior and football player Ofalopeti Santos and Walter Lipnoski both face charges for battery upon a peace officer and resisting arrest, they believe police were out of line. The two accuse them of using excessive force and racially profiling them.
Just after 3 a.m. Saturday morning, officers thought they found a parked car on Eighth Street that matched the description of a possible drunken driver. When police talked to a student connected to that car, it turned into an argument that escalated into police pepper spraying and shooting bean bags at Santos and punching Lipnosky.
Afraid to step in the middle of the fight, New Mexico Highlands student Sir-Devonta Stewart used his cell phone from afar to record Santos on the curb and his roommate Lipnosky on the ground.
"You're not supposed to defend yourself against them, so all I could do was sit on my property and record and try to help my friends to the best I could," Stewart said.
Santos was bruised from bean bag shots. When police booked Lipnosky into jail for resisting arrest, he couldn't see out of his left eye.
"It was wrong and what they did to my friend, it was wrong," Lipnosky said.
It hits close to home for Lipnosky, his mother Barbara and his father Harry. From Sacramento, the family said they knew Stephon Clark who was recently shot to death by police in his grandmother’s backyard.
"It's just been an outrage," Barbara Lipnosky said. "I can't even explain it in words because it's so senseless."
In a police report, officers allege that Lipnoski and Santos were belligerent, confrontational and cursing at them.
In a written statement, Deputy Chief of Police Kenneth Jenkins said when police confronted the students, they became confrontational.
"If our officers are met with any type of opposition, resistance or violence, we are governed by our training, departmental policies and laws on how we handle these situations," Jenkins said. "Currently, this incident is still under investigation."
To Barbara Lipnosky, it didn’t have to end this way.
"It's so bad. It is so bad. It is so bad,” Lipnosky said.
As of Thursday night, KOB-TV has requested lapel video from Las Vegas police.
New Mexico Highlands University spokesperson Sean Weaver sent KOB-TV the following statement:
"We recognize and appreciate the incredible stress police officers face every day, but the allegations our students have made surrounding the May 5 off-campus incident are deeply concerning. New Mexico Highlands University is a welcoming institution, and the well-being of all our students is our top priority. To that end, Highlands University President Sam Minner has met with the students and their families and hopes to work with the Las Vegas Police Department and the city to address our concerns."
Updated: May 10, 2018 10:39 PM
Created: May 10, 2018 10:38 PM
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