[Transcript of interview with Steve Riback by Barbara Tabach, December 12, 2017]. Riback, Steve Interview, 2017 December 12. OH-03366. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
Standardized Rights Statement
AN INTERVIEW WITH SERGEANT STEVE RIBACK BARBARA TABACH DECEMBER 12, 2017 REMEMBERING 1 OCTOBER ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH CENTER AT UNLV LIBRARIES SPECIAL COLLECTIONS & ARCHIVE PREFACE Sgt. Steve Riback is a Detective Sergeant for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He has been with the police force for nearly twenty years. On the night of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting, he had just returned home shortly after 10pm. He had been on an overtime assignment at the Golden Knights hockey game at the T-Mobile prior to the shooting. When he was abruptly awaken by a call from his lieutenant, he was oblivious to the time and immediately rushed into action—contacted his squad members and sped to his station in northwest part of the city. He reflects on his overwhelming pride of the police that day, recalling what he heard on his police radio, seeing the rush of police cars being dispatched, and watching a body camera video later. Sgt. Riback’s squad was assigned to Spring Valley Hospital where they worked tirelessly to identify victims, both injured and deceased. His reflections stir the image of medical professionals and police officers urgently fusing together to handle the situation at hand. Riback shares a myriad of emotions, talks about the options available for officers to deal with their personal trauma, and how he explained to his eight-year-old why Daddy was crying. Riback is also known as the Kosher Cop and has authored a book, My Journey Home, about becoming an observant Orthodox Jewish officer and his struggle for the right to wear his beard and a yarmulke while on duty. 1 Today is December 12th, 2017. This is Barbara Tabach and I'm sitting with Steve Riback. Would you spell your name for us, please? Steve Riback; R-I-B-A-C-K. What is your profession? Currently I work as a detective sergeant with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. How long have you been with Metro? In a couple more weeks it will be twenty years. Congratulations. Thank you. That's a milestone, right? Yes. Good for you. As we're doing this part of the interview for the Remembering One October project, I'd like you to describe and take me to where you were, how you learned about what was going on, and anything and everything you can describe so we better can picture it. Certainly. That evening of October first I actually was working on the Strip as an overtime assignment; I was working the hockey game of the Golden Knights. My assignment was to work from one in the afternoon until about nine o'clock on the Strip. I left the Strip right around nine o'clock, nine p.m. I went home. I had my phone on. I didn't have the TV on, radio; anything like that. I spoke to my wife for a little bit. Then I ended up getting ready for work for the next morning and I went to sleep shortly after ten o'clock, is my guess. I thought I had been asleep for a while and I got a phone call from my lieutenant, which on the days that I work I'm on call, so I have my phone with me or next to my bed. When I'm not 2 on call, I don't have it anywhere near me. So as soon as I saw my lieutenant's name on the caller ID, I was thinking, oh, great, I'm getting called out, because if he's calling me, then we've got to go on something. So he said, "Hey, wake up. I'm not joking around. There's an active shooter at the Mandalay Bay." I immediately woke up; it wasn't like I was in a fog. I wasn't aware of what time it was or how long I had been asleep or anything like that. I just was like, "Wow, okay, all right." He said, "Get your team together and head to the station." I realized I had to get ahold of my squad, so I sent my squad a group text to let them know, hey, this is not a test; I'm not joking around. There is an active shooter on the Strip. Saddle up. Let's go. We're meeting at the station. Then from there I individually called the people on my squad to let them know. One or two of them had already heard and were just waiting for the call; others, I woke them up. So I immediately got dressed. I made a couple of other calls while I was driving, just to speed up me going. I have a work car, so as soon as I got in my car and started driving, I was listening to the radio channel that was down on the Strip. I work in the northwest area. This was obviously happening on the Strip, which is a different channel. I switched over and it was chaos on the radio, for lack of a better word. I had never heard anything like it. I could hear panic and desperation, confusion; I mean, the whole gamut of emotions were running through my head. It was probably shortly after eleven at that point and I was absolutely confused of what was going on. I was like, wow. I just wasn't processing of like, wow, this is really happening. At one point I glanced at my clock on the car radio and I saw that it was just shortly after eleven. I'm like, oh, wow, it's not the middle of night. I had only been asleep maybe a half-hour or forty-five minutes at that point. 3 So I could hear active shooter. I heard Mandalay Bay. I heard MGM, New York New York, Paris, Bellagio; all these hotels were having reports. The dispatcher was reporting, saying, citizens are hearing gunshots at this location or that location, or they're seeing somebody with rifles enter/exit the hotel. Officers were getting on saying they're hearing reports of active shooters at this hotel. It was just absolute chaos. I was just like, wow, this is just... It was insane for lack of a better word. I couldn't believe that it was happening. I would never say anything like, wow, I never thought that would happen here, because it's just not the case. For me it's not an "if it's going to ever happen," it's "when and to what degree." Are we going to be able to mitigate this problem because we are Sin City? Especially when you talk about terrorism, you think about this is everything that some religious groups when you talk about—not even religious groups—the terrorism groups. Everything we do here is just anti to what they believe in and the whole sin aspect and component in gambling and drinking and the debauchery that goes on here. So I always thought even on New Year's Eve when we're out on the Strip that there was going to be something. There's just no way to prevent it or even to see it coming. I'm literally flying down the 215. I'm getting off the exit at Cheyenne to go to my station and I'm still listening to the radio. I could see there's cops racing by, racing away, with lights and sirens going; I'm assuming to go to the scene. We have different protocols and procedures in place of how you respond, when, who, where, what; all that stuff. I assembled my team. So you were going to your station. We were going to the station, yes. And your station is located where? Northwest Area Command, so Cheyenne/215 area, so away from the Strip. But flying down to the Strip, you probably could get down there in ten, twelve minutes, moving and shaking. 4 I could hear also the radio traffic of stuff going on at the Mandalay Bay about there was an active shooter. They had identified the room or something to that effect. I remember them saying something they had identified a card on the person; that he was deceased, and they had given off some names over the radio. There was a lot of officers that were showing up at the station. They had called in officers, patrol officers. They were starting to come in, get changed. My squad was there. We were originally given the order to just sit tight. They were trying to figure out what to go on. They didn't want to over converge. They didn't know where exactly to send people at that point. So we waited for a few minutes, I'd say maybe five to ten minutes, and then we were told to go to Spring Valley Hospital over in the southwest part of town. So my squad, myself and four detectives, we went over to Spring Valley Hospital. We got there and it was very surreal, very interesting. There was doctors and nurses and medical staff everywhere; I mean, there was bodies and people everywhere. I saw gurneys of people lined down the hall. I could see as soon as you walked in they were doing some sort of medical intervention to somebody over to the left. So you walked into the emergency? To the emergency room, yes. At that point patients were still being triaged. Some were still coming in; it was like the trickle, the end part of people coming in. We had heard on the radio different people were being transported by different methods. People were literally being thrown into backs of pickup trucks or were on the side of the road and somebody picked them up and dropped them off. We split up into two teams and we tried to get an understanding of how many people were there, how many victims were there, how many people were there that were associated with 5 the event. Obviously, in an emergency room there's going to be some people that had nothing to do with the event and they were there; we weren't concerned with them. So through the remainder of the night into the morning, we were tasked with interviewing and identifying the victims from the incident and to try to get an understanding. We had well over forty victims. We had several deaths that were there. We just methodically went down through lists; every hour or two we would check with medical to get updated lists to make sure we were dealing with the right people, the people that were there that were supposed to be there in terms of did they need to go to other facilities. At that point there was a lot of confusion because they didn't realize the magnitude, I think. Some people were being brought to the hospital that should have gone to other hospitals and they were trying to deal with that because of the level of trauma with some of the victims, they should have gone to UMC, but UMC was turning people away at that point; they couldn't fit any more. It was just a lot of confusion. But I did notice, watching the medical staff, how they were just very proficient, very calm, very just doing their job. It's very emotional for me. It was very interesting to see because in my line of work—people say, oh, we get paid the big bucks—we've got to handle business and this was a situation where at that point I didn't know what the police response was, but I knew that the medical response was phenomenal. It was a sight to see. I just had a tremendous feeling of pride for first responders. Then that night we just continued to talk to victims, talk to family members, people that were there, witnesses. We were watching on the TV at a couple of points, a press conference. Very early on I heard our sheriff, my boss, say that an officer had been killed from our department and it really hit home. 6 That was Chris...What was his name? Excuse me. That was Officer Hartfield. He was there as an attendee, right? Yes, he was not working. He was there just with his family. From what I hear he acted as he knew, his military and police training. He was protecting people and shielding people and trying to get people out of the immediate area. So I didn't know the circumstances. We didn't know the circumstances that he was not working at the time; we didn't know. Then when we finally realized, okay, it was isolated to this one event, very quickly a very bizarre thought had flashed into my mind. I don't typically work a lot of over time because I'm a Sabbath observer; the hot spot days of overtime is Friday and Saturday nights or Friday and Saturdays. It's kind of like this pool system; there may be a couple of events and you rank in order if you can work those overtimes and then it's some super-secret program that just randomly selects people. The week before when you sign up or you try to enter in for the overtime, there was a lot of overtime for that particular weekend; that October event, and so there were like fifteen events. I saw this Route 91 Festival and it was like a twelve-hour assignment or something like that, and there was a lot of different assignments for it. I thought to myself, wow, I haven't had overtime in a long time. Every other sergeant is probably going to pick those twelve-hour assignments. Those are very good lucrative assignments. I said to myself, trying to be tactical about it, "Let me get this eight-, nine-hour gig because there's a good chance I will get that while everybody tries to choose this Route 91." I had no idea what Route 91 was. I remember earlier in the week even Googling it to see, what is this thing? I kind of reversed ordered; I went for the lower-hour assignment instead. So that was flashing through my mind of like, oh my God, you could have been there, easily have been there. I literally left the Strip about 7 an hour before it all transpired, anyway. So the [Jewish saying]; with Judaism it's divine, and it certainly played a role in that. It just was a very interesting night. It was a long night. We were there until probably six thirty, I think, in the morning. We finally had a comprehensive list of the injured, their names, the interviews that we had spoken with the people. Then we turned in our paperwork, went back to the station, and we were tasked—the way that the department went to, you're either on or you're off. So day shift, we were working six to six, six at night. So we were then now on for the day. Were you able to get any sleep in there? So we stayed a couple more hours and then we had relief from our sister squad, another squad that had also been called in, and so we were able to get some sleep. I remember going home for a few minutes. It was crazy because I have three children, three small children who are five, seven and eight and a half years old. I knew that if they go to school, they're going to hear something about it. They go to a religious school, which is irrelevant. People are going to talk. So I didn't want them hearing this from anybody else. It was a very difficult conversation because I talked to my wife and I just...I was incredibly sad for the families, for the victims, for just the whole situation. It just saddened me. When I walked in the door, my wife was there. She hugged me right away and I lost it because I was like, man...Twenty years in law enforcement, I've been through crazy situations where I'm like, my God, thank you, I'm still alive, and I know a lot of cops deal with that. There's also several cops on my department who have never come home from situations. I was so thankful, so grateful. My kids had seen me when I walked in and I gave my wife a hug. My oldest had said, "Abba"—father, dad—"why are you crying?" I just hugged my kids. We sat them down and I just said to them, "There was a bad person who hurt a lot of 8 people." It was tough. That was one of the hardest things I remember as a parent, as a parent police officer telling my kids that something had happened. I mean, they're naive; they're kids. I just felt that as best as I could to explain to them what had happened and it was incredibly difficult, but I'm glad we did it. Kids are resilient. They bounce back. Five minutes later, they're like, "All right, can we go back in the backyard and play?" That's how it should be. But I knew that just the beginning work needed to be done at that point in terms of the investigation and the crime scene. The overwhelming feeling was is that there was nothing that day, that night that I had not seen before and that I had not seen a hundred times over. What really was the overwhelming feeling was just never to this magnitude. It was heartbreaking, just heartbreaking. Is there anything in your training that even remotely prepares you for something of this magnitude? We train, we discuss, we table top active shooter situations. The response by the officers on the Strip...Everybody is giving them accolades as they should, but I'm not surprised because that's what we do. I've always said that it's an interesting profession because we get badmouthed a lot. There's a lot of negativity that comes with this job. Inherently, the whole entire job is negative because when we're around there's nothing good happening. We don't pull people over and tell them, thank you for following the speed limit. We don't knock on doors and say, hey, thank you for not beating your wife tonight. If everyone is going one way, away from danger, we're going towards it, and that's exactly what those guys did. It was amazing to be able to see that because that's what we train for, that's what we do, and that's why we're so good at what we do is because we do train and we do talk about it and we do classes and things like that. So I would say we're very well trained in that respect. To know what these guys were up against and initially didn't 9 know what they were up against just made the work that they did that much more phenomenal from my perspective. Did you talk to some of the officers who were down there in the midst of it all? I did, one sergeant in particular who I work with at my station. We talked the next morning and he had said he was working and he explained to me some of the situations that were going on and what he was faced with. Then he said, "Oh, I had my body cam on. You've got to see it. It's incredible." So right there we went to the office and we watched his body camera. It was horrific. You could hear the rounds being shot out. You could see the confusion. There was so many different emotions going on because some people were just completely oblivious; they thought it was fireworks or they just didn't know. Some people were just like looking around, what happened? Oh my gosh, I just got shot. There was so much going on. I could also hear the radio traffic from the officers going on. I was also very impressed because very quickly they identified where the shots were coming from. Again, a testament that while there's chaos and bedlam going on, these guys all had their wits of, okay, this is what we need to do. Again, I was overcome with pride of like, wow, wow. That's what you want to see, that's what you want to happen, and that's exactly what happened. It was just an incredibly proud moment that I felt for these guys and I didn't have anything to do with it. These guys were on the front lines during it. Then just more and more the stories. In the hours and the days that followed, I was listening to the news and the press conferences and stuff like that. Unfortunately, there was a lot of the victims that are describing things that happened or the deaths. There were those that were talking about the victims that I was associated with at the hospital. Here's a family member discussing this person and telling about how amazing they were or their circumstances or the 10 substantial injuries and such, and I knew their names and I knew where they lived from the investigation. It just had a close feel to it more so than—again, the magnitude. I've been involved in crazy crimes and go home and Channel 3 is doing a story on it. It's like, oh, whatever, all in a day's work. But this just had a different feel, a way different feel. It became more personal. Yes. How many people are in a squad? How many were there with you at the hospital? I had four detectives and then me that were there. On my squad at the time, we had six people and two of them were off. Two of them were out of town, literally out of town, so they couldn't respond. It depends. For the investigative squad that I have, it's six people. Patrol squads could have anywhere from six, seven, eight to twelve, thirteen, fourteen, is pretty much within the guidelines. As police walk into the ER and all of this is going on, is there someone in the hospital that involves you or do you just immediately plug in and know exactly what to do? That's a good question. Typically if somebody is part of an incident, at a hospital you show up and that becomes part of the crime scene and then you take action appropriately. Being the supervisor, the first thing I did was I approached the desk. I found somebody and I think I made some comment of like, "Hey, you look like you're in charge. Obviously your whole floor is a crime scene. Can we get a liaison, somebody that we could have that we could keep with us and that is assigned to us? You know your hospital; we know nothing." And so that person said, "You need to talk to this person," who was like in arm's reach. Then that person said, "Yes. Give me a moment." Within a couple of minutes we had somebody and then we said, "Hey, we need to know the amount of victims that you have, where they are, how you're keeping track of people 11 and such like that." They were like, "Wow, I'm sorry." They were almost apologetic that we don't have that list right now. I was like, "Please, we completely understand that there's some chaos going on. We just need to get an idea of where are you putting people, what's going on at this point." So it kind of just took legs from there. But they were extremely, extremely helpful, receptive, and it worked out perfect. We had somebody that we kept with us. I split up the squad and I had three people on one and then me and another detective and another. We just kind of split the hallway and kept notes of how we were going to talk to people. Some people we did audio statements. Some people wrote statements. Some were physically unable because of their injuries and things. We just kind of systematically...Then every fifteen minutes or so, we would just quickly meet up, cross off on our lists to make sure we weren't double dipping people. Then we would get updated lists and then have to go and redo our lists. We just kept on going. It was a trial by error or trial by fire kind of a thing because there was so much going on, so much. The people that weren't injured that were friends or family of the victims that are being attended to, the trauma that they've gone through in worrying about their friends and family, how did you manage those people? The hospital pretty much seemed to kind of take the lead on that. There were not a lot of people there. There was a lot of bodies of people on gurneys and stretchers; they were everywhere. The staff there did a good job. I think I remember one person that had a gunshot wound had two people with her, but then for the most part either they didn't have anybody with them or they had one person, so I don't know if staff had limited people; that I don't know. It wasn't chaos from that regard. So they built some sort of organization out of that. 12 I can only assume, yes, yes. That emergency chaos that's going to happen. What led you to be a police officer? There's really not a good story. I don't come from a lineage of police officers. I went to college and went to school with the belief that I was going to be a teacher, an elementary schoolteacher. One of my roommates through the years was a criminal justice major and so I remember him talking about some of his classes and his studies and things and I was like, oh, that's kind of interesting. It was a couple of random instances that occurred where people are talking about the FBI or the police department or things like that and I'm like, yeah, that would be kind of cool, an interesting career. I literally called up a recruiter and went over all the requirements. I thought you had to have a college degree, political science, criminal justice; something of that nature. I remember the woman on the phone going through all the different things. I'm like, well, I meet that; I meet that; I meet that. I went down and got an application and that was it. It was a complete one eighty. I know a lot of people in my family and everybody was very surprised from it. At this point I couldn't imagine doing anything else. Was that all here in Las Vegas? Yes. What brought you to Las Vegas? UNLV. I came to school for elementary education. They had a good teaching program. I lived in California at that time and I wanted to go out of state just to experience that. While looking for schools, my father was very ill at the time and I wanted to be close to home if I needed to run home for whatever reason, medical reasons or something with my father, and so I could be close. It was a forty-five minute flight. Those days you could head to the airport twenty minutes before your flight with no luggage. 13 The good old days. Yes. I had done that many times. I was looking all over the country at schools and I ended up choosing UNLV. They had a good education program and close to home and out of state, so it kind of met all my needs, and then stayed. Actually this past year I have now lived in Las Vegas, in Nevada, longer than I have lived in California. I can no longer say I'm a Californian, I guess. What year did you graduate from UNLV? So I didn't. I came here. I was a student for two years. Then I needed to do a couple of semesters of student teacher, was really all I needed, to finish my degree. But then I joined the department at that point and I couldn't work full time and then student teach full time, essentially. I took a leave of absence for a while, for about ten years, and then ended up getting my degree and such. You mentioned New Year's Eve, for example, coming up. I read in the paper that the security is going to be upped. What happens, do you think—this is very subjective, as a person as well as an officer—with security at events any size, whether it's in Las Vegas or anywhere? To be honest, a lot of it is just absolute faith; that's it. I scrutinize and look at the world a whole lot different than other people. I think the profession has done that to me, in a positive way. But I look at what's to stop anybody from walking right into this library and there's probably a couple thousand people in right here and do anything? What's to stop...any crowded area? It's only as good as the security. It's only as good as the security measures that are in place. I equate it to when people say, "Oh, what's the best alarm system out there you can get for your house?" I say, "Well, to be honest, whatever you feel is the best because if somebody wants to get in your house, they're going to get in your house no matter what." So if somebody wants to produce harm on other people, they're going to do it. It's just a matter of to what degree. I'd love to say 14 that, oh, we can do this, this and this, but you do the best you can to mitigate under the circumstances. But when you have three, four, five hundred thousand people or however many people—think of Times Square in New York; they pass a million there—there's just no way, and so you do the best you can. I think that's the best thing that you can do. It's a lot of prayers. Singularly I don't know what is the answer and how you do it; I really don't because if nothing happens you're a genius and if somebody happens, well, you're a fool, and that's part of what's being experienced with, how does somebody have X amount of guns that this person had and put them in a suitcase and walk up to the room? It happens. He could've stuffed them into one suitcase. Just so many things. Do you think it's important that we know his motivation or dig as far as we can to discover something more about him? I think people have a natural curiosity of why do people do the things that they do. If you think of criminal trials and you watch TV shows, everybody wants to get to what was the intent or what was the motive. I think it's just natural. We're curious people. We want to know. And especially in a situation like this where it's not in your face and blatant of what the motivations were, I think it leaves a sense of uneasiness especially if you're looking for closure, if you're looking for an answer of, what did I do wrong or what could I have done differently? That I think is the most troubling. From a law enforcement standpoint I think it's very difficult because you're going to say, "Well, okay, this is what we're going to look out for with terrorists and this is what we're going to look out for with gang members and this is what we're going to look out for with this group and this category or whatever." Now it's like, oh, well, we've got random person over here. Now what? We've always been aware of lone wonderful terrorism and things of that nature, but it's 15 very difficult. What does Metro do for those officers who experienced this? How do they help you with the emotional scarring that this has got to do? I think a lot of people have really been affected by this. There's long-reaching tentacles on this one, no doubt. It's far-reaching and I think it's going to be long-lasting and I think the effects are not going to necessarily be seen in the short time; I think it's going to be long term. But they've offered a lot of counseling and all sorts of different social services, counseling, with our insurance, without our insurance. People have donated time; whoever therapist or counselor, come and see. We have internal assistance programs; they've offered that; there's been a lot of talk about it and a lot of talk in briefings. I have a very, very good captain right now who she's extremely officer focused and to me that is fantastic especially being in that position. You tend to lose focus and get into the weeds sometimes where you're just so far removed from reality and I think she is one of the very few that gets it in terms of what we have to do for our officers, what we have to look out for and things of that nature, and it's a genuineness, which I think is a double force in a positive sense. A lot of it is looking out for each other, talking among cops. We're the big, bad, tough guys. "Who's going to take care of us?" type thing while we take care of everybody else. I think that through the years that's something that has changed that I've seen in the twenty years. Twenty years ago if something horrific happens you just stay quiet or deal with it on your own. There may have been more of a stigma attached of like, hey, just suck it up, let's go. You move on. But I think more and more for the good we've gotten away from that. The department, I think they're learning unfortunately because of this situation that we have to have more things in place and we have to be more on it and more aware. I think that there is a lot of 16 services and a lot of opportunities out for people, which is good. Whether they utilize them, that's a whole other topic and issue, but they're there, which I think is very good. We talked about that this is going to be kind of a dual interview. We'll segue into your Jewishness. You are the cop that gets to wear yarmulke. You have your website, The Kosher Cop. Tell me that story. It's a lot. Essentially I was a few years on the department and I started dating a girl who was in my eyes a very religious person—not necessarily very religious, but knew a lot about Judaism. I had lived a very secular existence up until that point in my life. I always knew that I was Jewish; I didn't ever know what that meant. She, through a series of events, introduced me to a rabbi that she knew, which was Rabbi Mendy Harlig in Green Valley. So through meeting him on a couple of occasions, instantly I just was drawn to him. He's a young rabbi. We're very close in age, within a few years. It was the right time of my life. I had had a lot of Judaism incidents that if I look back now, I'm like, well, why didn't that draw me in? Why was it then, or why was it not then in certain circumstances? It just was the right time. I was ultimately invited to his house for a Shabbat dinner, for a Friday night dinner. The transformation began right then. I sat at the table. I saw all the traditions, all the customs, all the things going on, and I was just grabbed. I sat there and I saw and I observed and I asked a lot of questions. I got this overwhelming feeling that I was just absolutely appalled with myself. I was disgusted. I was embarrassed because I'm a Jew and in this day and age I was so uneducated; I knew nothing. I knew nothing. If you would have said to me, when is the Sabbath? I don't know. I knew nothing. Was it a Tuesday, a Friday, a Wednesday? I had no clue. I didn't know what any of the stuff meant and I really, really was furious with myself of just, wow, how? Why? I thought about the Holocaust and just all of the oppression, discrimination, everything having to do with 17 Jews through our existence. I made a conscious decision then that I was going to make some significant changes. I don't think I knew what that meant at the time. But really at that point anything would be significant. Picking up "a" book would have been. From that point on I said, "I'm going t