LAS VEGAS >> A judge cited the seriousness of allegations and the risk that someone could have been hurt as he increased bail today for a 20-year-old man accused of firing a gunshot into the floor of a crowded Las Vegas casino during a New Year’s Eve argument.
Las Vegas police, meanwhile, defended its bare-bones initial report to the media about “a disturbance” involving a weapon and an arrest at the Circus Circus casino. It mentioned nothing about casino security guards and two off-duty Nevada correctional officers tackling Manuel Garcia Hill while terrified casino patrons ran for the doors.
“It was basic information because all we had at the time was there was an altercation involving a weapon, no one was hurt, and the suspect and weapon were in custody,” said Officer Bill Cassell, a department spokesman.
There were no injuries. But a police report made public Wednesday showed that the first officers to arrive found “a state of panic” and “a large mass of people” exiting the 3,770-room hotel less than an hour before tens of thousands of revelers outside watched a $500,000 fireworks extravaganza billed as the biggest in the country.
“As they passed us, (people) stated that people were shooting in the casino,” a reporting officer wrote.
Hill, of North Las Vegas, is accused of pulling a .38-caliber revolver a little after 11 p.m. Monday and firing once into the ground just off the main casino floor during a verbal dispute with a father about the unwanted touching of his daughter.
“The court is quite concerned with the nature of the charges,” Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joseph Sciscento said Thursday as Hill stood shackled to other jail inmates in court.
The judge said that instead of $30,000, Hill would need to post $120,000 bail to be freed from the Clark County jail.
Hill’s lawyer, Bret Whipple, said outside court that Hill won’t be able to raise the money to be freed pending an evidence hearing set for Jan. 17. Whipple said Hill plans to plead not guilty to illegally carrying a concealed weapon and discharging a firearm in a structure.
Hill could face up to 11 years in state prison if convicted of both felony charges. Police said Hill had no permit for the gun.
Prosecutor Cal Thoman called carrying a loaded handgun into a crowded casino on New Year’s Eve “a brazen act” that placed many people in danger. Thoman told the judge that “a number of individuals who he was picking fights with” later told police they had seen a gun in Hill’s waistband.
Police reported that Hill tried to run from the scene and fought with arresting officers until he was placed in a wheelchair and restrained. Officers said they found a five-shot revolver in his pants pocket with one spent round.
The moment Hill fired the weapon was captured on casino security video, according to the police report.
Cassell said the video is evidence in the criminal case and won’t be made public by police. It was not clear if prosecutors planned to show the video during the preliminary hearing in two weeks.
Two witnesses later identified Hill as the man who fired the shot, and other witnesses told police that Hill gestured several times toward his waistband as if he had a weapon.
Cassell defended his report to the media at 2 a.m. Tuesday, which described an “orderly” New Year’s Eve with 16 arrests of people among the throngs of revelers on the Strip and the downtown Fremont Street Experience casino mall.
“The only information we had at the time was the information we put in the release,” Cassell said. “As an investigation progresses, we’re going to know more information.”
Cassell said it was important for media covering the crowds in town for New Year’s Eve to be able to report that “the problem had been immediately and successfully resolved and that there were no armed suspects on the loose.”
Gordon Absher, a spokesman for Circus Circus hotel-casino owner MGM Resorts International, credited police and the off-duty correctional officers for helping casino security officers quickly resolve the incident. Absher declined to comment on the incident itself or the criminal charges against Hill.
Efforts to reach the correctional officers through state prison officials were not immediately successful.