No one can say for certain what happened the night that Ruslan Zhgenti died.
Henderson, Nevada, police who investigated the incident contend that Zhgenti went to the home of his estranged wife and co-worker, Sabina Iskenderova, at 1:15 a.m. a month into the couple’s trial separation. Officials claim that Zhgenti was armed and intent on triggering a confrontation. The four bullets that hit him — including one in the head — speak to the finality of that confrontation. Henderson police indicate that the shooting was justifiable self-defense. It is apparent that they believe there are only two living witnesses to the incident: Sabina Iskenderova herself, and Edward Little, the police officer who fired the fatal shots.
If it seems suspicious that Little was conveniently inside the couple’s home, take heart: you are not alone in thinking so. It is suspicious. While the media has danced around the subject, it seems readily apparent why a man would be in the home of a woman other than the one he shares with his wife, and it can be referred to as “community policing” by only the least jaded.
Ruslan Zhgenti suspected that his wife was having an affair, and apparently died in the process of proving that. Whether or not he took actions that justified his shooting is up for debate, as is whether or not Henderson citizens can trust the Henderson Police Department to perform an unbiased investigation of one of their own.
The Clark County Coroner’s Office claims that since Little was off-duty and used his own personal weapon there would not be a coroner’s inquest into Zhgenti’s death. That is somewhat surprising, considering the coroner’s office has conducted at least four inquests of shootings involving off-duty officers within the past 20 years:
- In 2003, officer Robert Johnson, who was volunteering at a fireworks stand with his wife, shot an armed robber after the suspect pointed a gun at them. Johnson was not in uniform and didn’t identify himself as an officer.
- In 1999, officer Dennis Devitte shot and killed a man who walked into Mr. D’s bar and started shooting patrons, including the officer. Devitte was not in uniform and didn’t identify himself as an officer.
- In 1995, officer Merl Sage intervened in a man raping a woman across the street from Sage’s house. The suspect lunged at Sage, and Sage shot twice. Sage didn’t identify himself as an officer and was not in uniform.
- In 1993, multiple officers who had been celebrating a birthday tackled a purse-snatcher outside a bar. The man stopped breathing and died.
Coroner Mike Murphy claims that the off-duty officers noted above were performing as police officers even while off-duty, which justified the inquests.
He did not clearly explain why an off-duty officer volunteering to work a fireworks stand (Johnson) is any more “taking enforcement action” than is an off-duty officer volunteering to work beside a nightstand, but it is fair to suspect that both can be categorized as a gray area and matter of judgment by the coroner.
It may be worth noting that Mike Murphy also presided over the inquest regarding the shooting of Erik Scott, a former West Point cadet and Army officer gunned down by Las Vegas police in a flurry of gunshots outside the entrance of a crowded Costco. The one-sided presentation of the inquest procedure has come under considerable fire as the result of the Scott case, but the sad truth of the matter is that the process would still be viewed entirely as a local problem had Scott’s family and West Point alumni not brought the case to national attention. In more than 200 police-involved shootings dating back to the days of disco, the one-sided Clark County inquest has never resulted in criminal charges being filed against an officer.
In short, Clark County residents have no reason to trust a police force and sheriff’s department that “polices itself” by protecting itself, and which stands accused of evidence tampering and covering up the circumstances surrounding homicides.
We know that Ruslan Zhgenti died in the home he once shared with his newly estranged wife, cut down by four bullets from her suspected lover. They claim he had a gun. They claim he brandished it. That is entirely their contention. Zhgenti died without issuing a statement, and without having fired a bullet.
Frankly, we can’t know for sure if he was armed at the time of this death. One could speculate that the pistol, being one of two he owned, was one he had left behind for his wife’s protection that only found its way to him again after he died. It’s incredibly inflammatory to make such sinister suggestions … but people have. What’s more, people will, and they will continue to mistrust the police when there is little or no reason for citizens to think that their police are held accountable for their actions.
The public deserves accountability. Good cops deserve respect from the public. Both good cops and the public deserve far better than the rigged jury that is the current Clark County inquest system, and a local law enforcement community that engages in self-serving investigations that don’t pretend to be balanced, much less adversarial and just.
Timur Durdyev, Zhgenti’s brother, puts it bluntly: “He was murdered.” Sadly, we can’t trust the system to know if he is right or wrong. Clark County law enforcement can’t be trusted to investigate their own:
Henderson police concluded that the Sept. 17 incident involving Little was a “valid self-defense case” and did not recommend charges to the district attorney’s office.
“So they investigate one of their own,” [a local] exclaimed, “and the only two witnesses are people involved in the incident. And they exonerate him? How is it possible justice was served?”
Justice was not served here. Justice cannot be served if the justice system is corrupt, regardless of the law and the facts.
Ruslan Zhgenti is dead. No judge was assigned to his case, and no jury will hear it. He met only his executioner, and a sentence beyond appeal and apparently beyond the law.