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.