Guard, Gunman Dead in Wild Shootout at Vegas Courthouse
2 Dead in Shootout at Las Vegas Courthouse (Getty Images / January 4, 2010)
The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case, said 66-year-old Johnny Lee Wicks opened fire with a shotgun at a security checkpoint, touching off a running gunbattle with deputy U.S. marshals.
Although the investigation is continuing, the officials said evidence points to Wick's anger over his benefits case as the motive for the shooting.
Court records show Wicks sued the Social Security Administration in 2008, alleging he was the victim of racial discrimination because his benefits were reduced when he moved from California to Nevada in January of that year. The case was thrown out and formally closed last Sept. 9.
Gunfire erupted at the courthouse moments after 8 a.m., at the start of the work week, and lasted for several minutes. Shots echoed around tall buildings in the area, more than a mile north of the Las Vegas Strip. An Associated Press reporter on the eighth floor of a high-rise within sight of the federal building heard a sustained barrage of gunfire.
A passer-by said he counted at least 40 shots.
"The first shot that I heard was a shotgun blast. I knew it wasn't fireworks," said Ray Freres, 59, a sandwich shop manager and Vietnam veteran who said he was behind the federal court building at the time.
"I heard an exchange of gunfire. I was watching the street," Freres told the AP. "If they were coming my way, I was going the other way."
The U.S. Marshals Service said the victims included a 48-year-old deputy U.S. marshal who was hospitalized and a 65-year-old court security officer who died.
The dead guard was Stanley Cooper, a retired Las Vegas police officer employed by Akal Security, said Jeff Carter, spokesman for the Marshals Service in Washington.
Las Vegas police did not immediately provide information about Cooper. Carter said he was a police officer for 26 years and became a federal court security officer in Las Vegas in 1994.
Authorities did not immediately release the names of the wounded marshal.
U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., told reporters it appeared the gunman acted alone and the shooting was not a terrorist act.
In a handwritten lawsuit filed in March 2008, Wicks complained that his Social Security benefits were cut following his move and accused federal workers of discrimination because he is black.
"This case from the start was about race," Wicks wrote in the seven-page complaint, which has occasional spelling and grammatical errors.
"Lots of state worker(s) and agencies have took part in this scam mainly for old blacks who are not well educated," he wrote.
Wicks claimed the benefits reduction actually began in the state of California, after he had a stroke and wasn't able to go to government offices to protest an earlier benefit reduction.
He also claimed that Social Security staff called his new landlord in Las Vegas and told her not to help him.
"I didn't see it or hear it but I know it happen(ed)," Wicks wrote.