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erik scott coroner’s inquest:

Shoppers recount police shooting outside Costco

Attorney for slain man’s family calls inquest a ‘kangaroo court’


Steve Marcus

Costco shopper Annette Eatherton testifies during a coroner’s inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010.

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 3

Costco shopper Barbara Fee demonstrates how she saw Erik Scott raise his right arm toward a Metro Police officer as she testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 2

Metro Police Officer William Mosher testifies about shooting Erik Scott during a coroner's inquest at the Regional Justice Center Thursday, September 23, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 1

Bill Scott, Erik Scott's father, listens to testimony during a coroner's inquest at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, September 22, 2010. Launch slideshow »

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  • Unidentified caller from within Costco talking to dispatchers

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  • Shai Lierley on the phone with dispatchers

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  • Metro Police radio traffic during the July 10 officer-involved shooting that left Erik Scott dead

The emotionless voice of Samantha Sterner told jurors on Friday that her boyfriend, 38-year-old Erik Scott, carried a gun with him everywhere he went and that the officer who shot him to death July 10 was “out of line.”

Prosecutors presenting the facts in the coroner’s inquest into the Scott’s death said they had attempted numerous ways to contact the woman to ask her to testify in court, including leaving a subpoena with her brother, but she didn’t respond to investigators from the district attorney’s office.

What jurors heard was a recording of an audiotaped statement given by Sterner in the hours after the shooting in which Sterner says she kept screaming at the officer: “Do not shoot. He’s a concealed weapons holder. He’s a military officer. Do not shoot.’”

“I said it a million times,” she says.

She tells the officer that in the minutes leading up to the shooting, Scott had recounted to her that an employee had told him he couldn’t have his weapon in the store. She says he didn’t seem irritated or agitated by the encounter and tells the officer that after their conversation about his gun, she had asked Scott to go to the front of the store and get another shopping cart because theirs was full.

Several witnesses, including a number of Costco employees, have testified during the proceedings that Scott had destroyed boxes that contained water bottles and was trying to force them to fit into a cooler, which was when the gun was spotted in the waistband of his pants.

The alleged use of prescription narcotics has also been a focus of testimony, with a number of people testifying that Scott appeared to be under the influence and had high levels of xanax and morphine in his system when he died.

As Scott was heading to the front of the store, Sterner learned the store was being evacuated. She told Scott after he returned that they needed to leave and that the store was probably being evacuated because of him.

She said he was surprised to learn that he was the reason people were being asked to exit the store.

“He carries a gun everywhere he goes. This has never happened before,” she said, referencing the evacuation.

Their plan, Sterner said, was for Scott to take his guns out to her car then come back to the store and sort out what happened.

Scott never made it that far.

Moments later, he was shot to death outside the doors of the shoppers warehouse.

Sterner says on the tape that the officer who fired first at Scott “was too aggressive” and would have shot Scott even if he had complied with all directions.

“I just think that this officer was out of line,” she tells the officer. What happened was a misunderstanding.

“He was trying to put his weapon on the ground,” she says.

Officer William Mosher, the first of three officers who fired shots at Scott and the first to pull his trigger, was again on the witness stand Friday to answer questions from interested parties.

One of the written questions directed at Mosher asked if he felt any remorse for shooting and killing Scott.

He responded: “Remorse? Absolutely.”

But he said that given the circumstances — that Scott had raised a weapon at him — he had no choice but to respond with deadly force.

Mosher, who is a Marine, said Scott, a West Point graduate, should have known how to safely surrender a weapon to an officer, but he didn’t act in an appropriate way.

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Metro Police Officer William Mosher testifies for a second day during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010.

Under questioning, Mosher described himself as a believer in the 2nd Amendment and a member of the National Rifle Association.

“I think CCW is a great thing,” he said.

Testimony on Thursday by Mosher and Costco employees indicated that Scott hadn’t committed any crimes inside the store — Scott might have received a ticket for trespassing or destruction of property.

But he said it is illegal in Nevada to carry a weapon when under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so police had an obligation to investigate and take Scott into custody, even if it was only temporarily. There was a good chance, Mosher said, that Scott wouldn’t have been arrested for anything.

In the background of a call to 911 played for the jury, Mosher can be heard yelling, “Put your hands where I can see them now. Drop it! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!”

The shooting wouldn’t have happened, he said, if Scott had complied with the commands issued by police to get on the ground.

Mosher was found to be justified in a shooting in 2006. In that instance, he testified Friday, he fired nine times. He said he fired twice at Erik Scott.

Mosher said he didn’t expect Scott to walk out of the store and that the officers were waiting for their sergeant and more officers to arrive before coming up with a plan to enter the store and make contact with Scott.

Medical personnel found a second firearm on Scott’s body in the ambulance while he was being taken to University Medical Center, Mosher said he later learned. Although he handcuffed Scott after shooting him, Mosher said, he believed he was dead so he didn’t search him. He didn’t believe he was going to be taken to the hospital, he said.

In addition to Mosher’s testimony and the tape of Sterner’s statement, a number of shoppers and Costco employees testified on Friday.

Costco assistant manager Vince Lopez said Scott’s actions with the cooler and the water bottles were “strange behavior from an adult.”

He said that Scott became confrontational when he told him about the store’s weapons policy.

“We are a private membership club, and we don’t have to provide for a public accommodation of a concealed weapon,” he said. Although the policy isn’t posted in the store, he said, people are generally amenable and take their guns back to their car.

Scott, however, didn’t like what he heard from Lopez.

“He told me, ‘That’s a (expletive) up policy,’” Lopez said. “He told me he’s a Green Beret and can take a gun wherever he wants.”

At that point, Lopez said, Scott held his hand up in the shape of a gun and pointed it at Lopez’s head. He said if someone came into the store with a gun and threatened him with a gun, he would “take care of it.”

Knowing that another employee, Shai Lierley, was on the phone with 911, Lopez backed off.

Lopez also testified about the store’s security system. At the time of the shooting, no surveillance video was being recorded.

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Costco assistant manager Vince Lopez testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010. Lopez said Scott made what he perceived as a threatening gesture.

“We have had problems off and on with our system,” he said.

In fact, it has malfunctioned recently.

“It hasn’t worked the past few days. We just got it back up and running yesterday,” he said.

He said he knew of some Costco stores that had no video surveillance at all.

“The security cameras aren’t something that we rely on to do our day-to-day business,” he said.

Linda Bem, the Costco employee who helped Scott sign up for a Costco membership earlier that day, said Scott had a hard time understanding her instructions and filling out the proper forms. Sterner ended up filling out the forms for him, she said.

Scott seemed agitated but wasn’t violent, Bem said. She noticed Scott’s knuckles were bleeding.

Bem reported the odd incident to her supervisor.

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Linda Bem, the Costco employee who helped Scott sign up for a Costco membership, testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010. Bem said Scott had a hard time understanding her instructions and filling out the forms.

“I sensed something was terribly wrong,” she said. “He was confused; his thought processes were very, very slow...Quite frankly, I was worried about him.”

Bem later evacuated the store and heard shots but didn’t see the shooting, she said.

Jerome Dwight Arcano, a Costco floor supervisor, testified that he saw Scott in an aisle at the store throwing items on the ground and trying to tear a box.

“He was acting unusual,” and he seemed paranoid, pacing the aisle like he was worried about someone watching him, Arcano said.

He also said Scott had a red mark on his neck, as if he had been slapped, and he thought Scott might be on drugs.

Arcano reported what he saw to management and left the area, he said.

Costco manager Javier Torres said he went to approach Scott as he was trying to shove the bottles into the cooler, but before he could approach, Scott turned and asked him if Costco sold the holders for them. Torres told him no; Scott seemed a little irritated, Torres said.

“He seemed like he was on drugs to me,” he said. “I’m not sure what kind of drugs.”

Taped statements from two foreign exchange students who had already returned overseas were also played for jurors.

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Javier Torres, a Costco manager, testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010. Torres also testified that he thought Scott may have been on drugs and was not acting normal.

Lisa Holzgruber said she was outside the store when she saw a police officer and a man near the store’s entrance. The man lifted his shirt and she saw a gun in his waistband, Holzgruber said.

The man was “going for the gun with his hand,” she said.

She then heard gunshots and started to run.

Holzgruber said she couldn’t tell what the man was doing; he may have been drawing his gun or maybe he was going to give the gun to the officer, she said.

She said she thinks she heard the officer tell the man to drop the gun, but she wasn’t sure.

Caroline Lagerholm, who was with Holzgruber outside the store, recounted a similar scenario in her taped statement. She said she heard the police officer tell the man to put the gun down, but she saw the man reaching for the gun.

Wentworth and Annette Eatherton were shopping at Costco and saw Scott inside the store and then again outside when he was shot. Both of them testified Friday.

Wentworth Eatherton recalled words he heard Scott say while in the aisle at Costco.

“As we went by, Annette and I heard him say, ‘Well, I can do this in Texas.’” He and his wife talked about what that could mean as they walked down the sporting goods aisle and headed for the lettuce.

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Costco shopper Wentworth Eatherton testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010.

He said he told his wife that the only thing he could think of was that it was a reference to a gun.

“He was acting like he was irritated about the conversation (with the Costco employee),” he said.

Wentworth Eatherton said that inside the store, he didn’t see if Scott had a gun on him. He said that outside the store, they heard an officer tell Scott, “Don’t touch it,” and “Get on the ground.”

He saw Scott move his hand on his right side, then the officer shot him.

After Scott was shot, Wentworth Eatherton said, he saw a gun in a “gun rug” fall from Scott’s right side and slide about four feet in front of him.

He said he later noticed the gun was gone. He said the gun in a holster shown to him in a photo by Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Laurent wasn’t the gun he saw.

Christopher Villareale was shopping at Costco the day of the shooting and also is a concealed weapon permit holder.

Villareale said he was one of the last people to leave the store and wasn’t far from Scott when he was shot.

He testified that an officer yelled at Scott to get on the ground, “and Mr. Scott is just standing there not doing anything.”

He said Scott should have complied with the officer’s demands. He also said he knew the officer thought someone could be harmed and “thought he did the right thing shooting him.”

“I just can’t imagine grabbing a gun when you have police officers pointing a gun at you. Why would you not just get on the ground?” he said. “I think he made a very tragic error in grabbing for it.”

Barbara Fee, who was shopping with her 10-year-old granddaughter, also watched the shooting unfold. After shots were fired, she said, “all hell broke lose.” She said that when she saw the object in Scott’s hand, she thought someone was going to be shot.

“Oh my god, fortunately, the officer was quicker,” she said.

Two cashiers, Arlene Houghton and John Nikitas, testified they saw Scott and his girlfriend while they were entering the store.

Houghton said they walked behind her register, coming from the membership desk, when Scott tripped and fell on the belt by the register, even though there was nothing to trip over.

His girlfriend grabbed Scott and propped him up on the shopping cart for support, Houghton said.

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Arlene Houghton, a Costco cashier, testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010.

Scott looked up at Houghton and said, “I guess I really am (messed) up,” Houghton said, adding that his eyes were glossy.

At a news conference after Friday’s proceedings, Scott family attorney Ross Goodman said the family is withholding witnesses from the inquest because they do not think it is a fair hearing.

“When there’s a fair process and I’m allowed to examine these witnesses and the court is allowed to entertain objections and there’s a fair process, then these witnesses will come forward and testify. But they’re not going to testify in a kangaroo court,” Goodman said.

The issue came up directly in the inquest Friday morning when William Falkner, an investigator in the district attorney’s office, testified that he was unable to serve a subpoena on Samantha Sterner, Scott’s girlfriend.

Falkner said the number he had for Sterner was disconnected. He went to her home and left a subpoena with a man who said he was her brother and he left message on a number publicly advertised for people to reach the Scott family.

Falkner then happened to run into Goodman at the courthouse, he said. He asked Goodman if Sterner would testify, but Goodman said he didn’t know.

He also asked Goodman for a list of other witnesses the family wished to call, but Goodman never provided any names.

At the beginning of the inquest, the judge instructed the courtroom audience, including Goodman and Scott’s parents, to contact the coroner’s office if they knew of any other witnesses who wanted to testify, but none were submitted.

Goodman met with reporters outside the courthouse after the day’s proceedings to discuss what had happened.

He said the inquest is a “farce” and the real court proceedings won’t begin until he files a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against Metro and Costco, a move he expects to happen in the next few weeks.

“This is a one-sided process, and when we file our case, I’ll have an opportunity to take their depositions, review their statements and try and reconcile the conflicting witness testimony,” he said.

“The 20-plus witnesses we have who testify that Erik didn’t pull a gun will be made available at that time,” he said.

The district attorney’s office is purposely not calling witnesses who could support the Scott family’s claims, Goodman said.

“To show you how unfair this process is, the DA’s office has knowledge of some of those witnesses who claim that Erik didn’t pull a gun,” he said. “They gave their statements to Metro the day of the shooting, and you haven’t heard from those witnesses because it would exonerate Erik.”

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Ross Goodman, attorney for the Scott family, speaks to the court during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010.

Goodman dismissed the entire inquest, saying: “I think that today’s testimony showed that this is the best the state has. They have no more witnesses.”

But when a reporter pointed out that there were still two more days of testimony, Goodman conceded that he didn’t know who else the district attorney’s office would call to testify.

Goodman also dismissed the testimony of Villareale, who said he was only feet away from Scott when he was shot.

“His opinion obviously would not be admissible in a real court. It has no relevance to anything,” Goodman said. “It’s frustrating because I would have loved the ability to get up and cross examine him, and then we would have had something to talk about. But when they prevent you from doing that, that reinforces this one-sided process, and it’s all the information filtered through the prosecutors.”

As for Scott’s girlfriend, Goodman admitted he has talked to Sterner and she is in Las Vegas.

“Again, this is a one-sided process, and there’s no reason for her to testify in this proceeding. The real proceeding is going to be in federal court when we file a civil rights action against Metro and against Costco,” he said.

The inquest is scheduled to resume Saturday morning and will likely spill into next week.

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