Ernest James May

Department: Las Vegas Metropolitan, Nevada, P.D.

End of Watch: June 8, 1933

Ernest James May was the first Las Vegas Police Officer to give his life in the line of duty.

Officer May, a member of a prominent pioneer family, joined the Las Vegas Police Department in the

early 1930’s at a time when Las Vegas was still a rough and tumble community. At that time, the city

boasted two police cars and the members of the police department could be counted on one hand.

Uniforms were not worn in those days and while radios were in existence, they were too expensive an

item to be owned by the police force. When an officer was sent on a call, he knew, in most cases, he

would have to handle it without help from other officers.

On June 8, 1933, at approximately 1945 hours, two unidentified men called the police station and

reported that a drunken man was shooting wildly at the Clark Auto Court on S. 5th Street. Officer May,

better known as “Ernie” to his countless friends, was assigned to investigate the disturbance. His brother,

Joe May, City Constable and the first law enforcement officer in the Las Vegas area, followed him to the

motel a short time later, but not seeing the police car parked in view, he left.

He returned to the motel after two women at the station reported that the proprietor of the motel had shot

at them, inflicting several powder burns on the face of one of them. At the motel, Officer Joe May found

the missing patrol car in front of the court. Closer inspection revealed the motel proprietor dead at the

west end of the motel and Officer Ernest May sprawled face down at the east end of the motel.

His hand was still clutching his warm revolver. As the shooting was reconstructed by witnesses and the

police, it appeared that Officer Ernie May had pulled his police car into the auto court and as he climbed

from the car, he was shot in the right breast by the motel proprietor. Although mortally wounded, Officer

May emptied his revolver at his assassin, striking him three times.

Both men died before help could reach them. It was later learned that the motel proprietor had been

drinking heavily during the day and had made statements that he would kill the first officer to stop there.

Unfortunately, Officer May was the first to arrive and died there at the age of 38, leaving a widow and

seven children ranging in ages from 15 years to six weeks.