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Police officers found justified in Erik Scott shooting; family plans lawsuit

Father says coroner’s inquest system ‘failed miserably’


Steve Marcus

Bill Scott, center, father of Erik Scott, speaks to reporters after a coroner’s inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Tuesday, September 28, 2010. With Bill Scott are his wife Linda and attorney Ross Goodman. The jury found that the shooting of Erik Scott was justified.

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 6

Bill Scott, center, father of Erik Scott, speaks to reporters after a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Tuesday, September 28, 2010. With Bill Scott are his wife Linda and attorney Ross Goodman. The jury found that the shooting of Erik Scott was justified. Launch slideshow »

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 5

Metro Police Detective Peter Calos holds a .38 caliber handgun owned by Erik Scott during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Monday, September 27, 2010. The gun was said to be found in Scott's pocket by medical workers in the ambulance. Launch slideshow »

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 4

Costco customer Karen Passarelli-Krause wipes away a tear while testifying during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Saturday, September 25, 2010. Launch slideshow »

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 »

Audio Clip

  • 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 coroner’s inquest that on Tuesday found the Metro Police shooting death of Erik Scott justified “failed miserably,” Scott’s father said.

Bill Scott told reporters that the next step for the family would be to file a lawsuit in federal court “so finally we all will have the truth.”

The family plans to file a civil rights lawsuit alleging the officers used excessive force. Defendants will be Metro, Clark County, the sheriff’s office and Costco, where the July 10 shooting took place in Summerlin.

Up to this point, the focus of the coroner’s inquest has been on Metro, Bill Scott said.

“Metro pulled the trigger,” Scott said. “But Costco was the primary guilty party. Costco killed Erik.”

Ross Goodman, the Scott family’s attorney, said the lawsuit could be filed as early as two weeks from now.

Goodman and Bill Scott talked to reporters outside the Regional Justice Center about 20 minutes after a seven-member Clark County coroner’s inquest jury ruled the death of Erik Scott as a justifiable homicide.

Bill Scott called the six-day inquest a “horrific nightmare.”

“We gave the system a chance to work as it’s supposed to work. They had the chance to present the truth. They also had the chance to present the facts at the coroner’s inquest hearing. As we see it, the system failed miserably,” he said.

The jury of seven announced the unanimous decision at 5:29 p.m. after deliberating for about 90 minutes.

Jurors were instructed to determine whether the shooting was justifiable, excusable or criminal. Coroner’s juries do not have to be unanimous in reaching their verdict.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie did not release any comment on the verdict Tuesday. A Metro spokesman said Gillespie would not be available until a press conference set for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Police responded to the Costco store after dispatchers received a 911 call indicating that a man with a gun was at the store acting erratically and destroying merchandise, testimony showed.

Police confronted Scott — who was armed but had a concealed weapons permit — as he exited the store with other patrons who were being evacuated.

Two of the three officers who shot Scott testified Tuesday that they felt Scott was an “imminent” threat before they fired.

Officer Thomas Mendiola testified that he heard officer William Mosher yell, “Hands, let me see your hands.”

Scott reached both hands under his shirt and pulled out a gun, which Scott pointed directly at Mosher, Mendiola said.

It was later determined that the gun was still in its holster.

“I immediately went to center mass, took aim and discharged my weapon,” Mendiola said.

Scott was a threat, Mendiola said. “I felt that my fellow officer was in immediate and imminent danger,” he said.

Mendiola said he remembered shooting three times, but was later told he fired four times.

“I just fired until I felt that the suspect wasn’t a threat. I perceived him as a threat every time I fired,” he said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Laurent asked Mendiola would have done anything differently in retrospect.

“Absolutely not,” Mendiola said. “We don’t pick what’s going to happen, we react to the situation, and that’s what the situation presented at that time.”

An interested party asked what Mendiola thought when he found out Scott’s gun was in a holster the whole time.

“It was still a threat, whether it was holstered or not. I did what I had to do,” Mendiola said.

Officer Joshua Stark also said Scott failed to comply with Mosher’s orders.

Scott reached to his back, exactly where Costco security had told police the gun was located, Stark said.

“He pulls out the gun and it comes forward,” then shots were fired, Stark said.

“I wasn’t sure who had been shot. I just knew shots had been fired,” he said, explaining that he was focused on Scott’s hands.

“I fired my handgun because I thought my partner officer Mosher and everybody behind him was in the threat of imminent death,” he said.

Mosher testified Thursday and Friday. A fourth officer who was also at Costco at the time of the shooting testified Tuesday.

Officer Dustin Bundy was at the Costco but did not see the shooting because he was behind a pillar when Scott came out of the store, he said.

Bundy said he heard shots fired, but when he was able to see what was happening Scott was already on the ground.

Detective Barry Jensen was Thursday’s other witness. Jensen is a homicide detective assigned to investigate the shooting.

Jensen said he has investigated about 70 police use-of-force incidents in the last 10 years but doesn’t recall any having as many witnesses as this one.

Jensen testified that Scott didn’t have a permit to carry the gun that was in his pocket when he was shot.

Scott carried a Ruger .380 semi-automatic handgun and a .45-caliber Kimber single-action pistol. The Kimber was found in its holster not far from where Scott’s body landed after he was shot. The Ruger was found in Scott’s clothing as he was being taken to the hospital.

Scott had a concealed carry permit and seven gun registrations in his wallet, but the permit didn’t include the Ruger.

“That’s a felony crime in Nevada,” Jensen said.

The permit did list a .380 Kel Tec, which is similar.

Jensen also testified that Scott was not a Green Beret and had not served overseas in the military.

Costco employee Shai Lierley previously testified that Scott said he was a Green Beret when he was told his gun was not allowed in the store.

Jensen said when he interviewed Scott’s girlfriend, he asked if Scott was a Green Beret. She told him he had done some stuff “they don’t talk about.”

Jensen said he checked out Scott’s DD-214 separation papers from the military.

“We found he had no special forces training and wasn’t a Green Beret,” Jensen said. Jensen said they also found Scott was honorably discharged in 1996.

The final witness Tuesday was Coroner Mike Murphy, who testified that the family was told more than once how to provide the names of witnesses to bring to the inquest but had not done so.

Goodman previously indicated that the family was withholding its witnesses until there was a fair hearing into the shooting. More than 60 witnesses testified during the six days of the inquest.

Goodman indicated that the family would be seeking punitive damages in the federal lawsuit.

“Part of the statute is punitive damages, if a jury finds that they acted excessively,” Goodman said.

Click to enlarge photo

Metro Police Officer Thomas Mendiola testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Tuesday, September 28, 2010.

Goodman and Bill Scott complained that, unlike a regular jury trial, where a prosecutor presents a case and a defense attorney presents a rebuttal, only the district attorney is allowed to present a case in the coroner’s inquest. And the district attorney was defending the police, they said.

“So you’ve got the police’s version and that’s it,” Goodman said. “Now we’re going to be able to get the actual information, the actual evidence, and we’re going to file a case in the next few weeks in federal court. And we’ll present the real case and the real truth.”

The truth, Goodman said, was “Erik Scott was walking to the parking lot with his gun in his holster and he was ambushed by these three officers who gave him about three seconds from the initial commands to respond.

“And as he was turning around, you heard witnesses testify that he was frozen in time, looked like a deer caught in the headlights, and he responded within a few seconds with the best that he could do by handing over the holstered gun, at which point they shot him two times in the front and five times in the back.”

Goodman said the family still has not seen the final police report, still has not seen written statements from witnesses and still has not seen any of the evidence.

That’s the reason the family did not provide any witnesses that would be favorable to their version of the events, he said.

“When a real jury gets to hear both sides of the facts, I think you’re going to find a much different verdict,” Goodman said.

Bill Scott indicated that the family would also have its own independent autopsy performed

Goodman said the family didn’t believe police reports and Costco reports that there was no actual video of the events. Testimony from store employees was that the video recorder was not properly working at the time of the shooting.

“I don’t believe at all there was anything wrong with the video that day,” Bill Scott said. “If there had been a slip and fall accident at noon that day, they would have had it all on video. I guaran-damn-tee you.”

However, Scott said, he wasn’t alleging that the video was destroyed.

He said the real message of the jury’s verdict is that “this circus, this cop-clearing circus that they call a coroner’s inquest process, is now making Las Vegas the laughingstock of the nation.”

Goodman said there was no point in having the coroner’s inquest hearing because the evidence was presented by police and by the district attorney’s office, which works hand-in-hand with police.

“There’s an institutional bias; there’s a vested interest in making sure there’s a justifiable finding here, and you got exactly that,” Goodman said. “The prosecutors spun the evidence to ensure that the police were found to be justifiable.”

Click to enlarge photo

Metro Police Officer Dustin Bundy testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010.

Goodman said that the presiding officer, Justice of the Peace Tony Abbatangelo, wouldn’t allow the family to file a motion to address the flaws of the system.

Maggie McLetchie, an attorney for the ACLU of Nevada, said the verdict was expected, but the process was flawed.

“We’re not surprised with this verdict because no matter what the evidence is, no matter what the case is, officer-involved shootings are almost always found to be justified,” she said.

The one good thing to come out of the inquest is the heightened awareness in the community, she said.

“The time for change is now,” she said. “I think people were able to observe some of the things that we’ve been complaining about.”

McLetchie said she can’t take a position on whether the verdict was right or wrong, but the inquest showed many of the flaws of the system, such as no cross-examination of witnesses or checks on district attorney.

“It’s really too bad that we don’t have a system that lets the truth come to light,” she said.

In coroner’s inquests, witnesses are not cross-examined, but interested parties may submit questions to the judge, who can ask them of the witnesses. More than 1,500 questions were submitted during inquest, but many were not asked because they were not appropriate, irrelevant or already had been asked, Justice of the Peace Tony Abbatangelo said.

Questions submitted but not asked were read onto the record by Abbatangelo outside the presence of the jury.

Members of the jury were also allowed to ask questions of witnesses and frequently did so. The jury included four men and three women. Four alternates also participated in the proceedings, however one was excused Saturday when he became ill. The other three, two women and a man, were excused before deliberations began.

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