LAS VEGAS – Emotions boiled over Tuesday in front of members of the public during an open discussion pertaining to the death of a student who died after participating in a fraternity charity boxing match.
The monthly NAC meeting is usually about licensing combatants and events, grant reimbursements, and drug test failure suspensions. Tuesday, the topic was more emotional in nature – and it was reflected in some of the conversations.
A public discussion came less than 24 hours after a full investigative report on the death of 20-year-old college student Nathan Valencia came to light.
“Law enforcement statements that no crime had been committed were conclusive and premature, and compromised any possible future prosecution,” the 158-page report concluded.
Valencia, 20, died after the Nov. 19 boxing event sponsored by UNLV’s Kappa Sigma fraternity chapter. Drugs and alcohol, poor equipment, and a referee who was drinking while officiating were allegedly part of the Sahara Events Center “Fight Night.”
Valencia took part in a boxing match at Sahara Event Center and collapsed after suffering injuries. The event was not overseen by the NAC due to a state law loophole that allows for events featuring predominantly college students and run by schools or such organizations are exempt from amateur regulation. Valencia died four days later on Nov. 23.
Since Valencia’s death, much anger and concern towards pinpointing accountability for the tragic matter has stirred in Nevada. Days after Valencia’s death in November, Cloobeck invoked an emergency order of “Nathan’s Law,” which would close said loophole.
“This is an underground fight,” commissioner Anthony Marnell said Tuesday. “I think I’m not going to testify to anybody’s intent. Nobody intended for any of this to happen. Nobody intended or premeditated this.”
First assistant attorney general Kyle George answered questions first, followed by assistant district attorney Christopher Lalli, who indicated that he just received the report hours prior to the meeting.
“You’re not prepared?” NAC chairman Stephen Cloobeck hollered at Lalli. “You just said you didn’t read anything and you’re not prepared. … You want to debate me in my commission meeting? Do you really want to go there?”
Lalli explained that he had not received a request from LVMPD to investigate the matter, thus his office never had the means to do so.
Although he apologized for his outburst, Cloobeck said the nature of Valencia’s death deeply irked him – something he reiterated frequently throughout the meeting.
“Folks, I got the call when he went to the hospital,” Cloobeck said, in his closing statement, after multiple heated exchanges. “I also got the call when he expired. Those are not great calls to get. They’re not great calls. That’s why I’m so passionate because I saw so many failures and so many commitments from people that I thought were community leaders and thought leaders who wanted to do the right thing.”
LVMPD was called up next, where deputy chief James LaRochelle took the podium.
“Are you going to triple down today?” Cloobeck asked. “Or are you going to come in and do the right thing? … We all pay you to do your job. This is not political.”
He later added, “I’d love for Metro to do an investigation.”
LaRochelle took the position that his department thoroughly and swiftly looked into the situation, but reiterated that no criminal charges nor a murder investigation were necessary given the information they obtained.
Marnell takes a calm approach
While Cloobeck largely spoke from a place of audible and visible emotion, Marnell spoke calmly but firmly as he tried to get to the root issue.
Marnell, who has been with the NAC for almost a decade, said NAC representatives have tried to push for stricter legislation to oversee college and fraternity combat sports fights. Marnell indicated legislators have long brushed off the activity as part of campus culture.
“This is such a finite line in the statute and the reg,” Marnell said. “How would you know? We have people who work in our office who don’t even know. … Our legislators, our executive branch, and our higher education system are extraordinarily aware of this regulation and have fought against us for decades to change it. They’re equally responsible in this. They should’ve changed it 10 years ago.”
An attorney representing Valencia’s “Fight Night” opponent Emmanuel Logan, was pressed by Cloobeck to turn in the gloves used on fight night.
Logan responded that he would need to discuss with his client first, but added that they had never been asked for, despite Cloobeck’s indication Aleman may have obstructed the investigation.
The Sahara Event Center owner and fraternity manager also declined to comment, through their attorneys, due to a pending civil lawsuit.
All sides involved concluded heads should be put together and more discussions should be had, although no specific steps were agreed upon.
“Certainly this situation here says that between the agencies we can improve our communication and early on get everybody in a room together and discuss who has what, for clarity,” deputy chief LaRochelle said.
When asked by executive vice president Staci Alonso about what should be done, first assistant attorney general George indicated possible law-strengthening could come into play.
“One of the things I’ve heard discussions about is perhaps a legislative fix,” George said. “This commission acted on Dec. 13 to pass Nathan’s Law, which was a regulatory fix that asserted some additional oversight, but these events can still go on. This temporary measure was criminally adopted, so we have to put a regulation in place now. There are additional protections that did not exist Nov. 19. Perhaps this is the time for future legislative action that can make the determination one way or the other. “
Watch the full NAC discussion below.