While investigating the Erik Scott case, particularly in the days leading up to and immediately following the Inquest, it was not uncommon for events to overtake my plans for additional posts. In addition, Bob Owens and I were often receiving information from people in the position to know information not in the public domain. This often led us to make shorter posts, or posts related to or transitional between major posts, as was the case with Update 3.2 in this post.
As always, those interested in reading the comments that accompanied each original article should visit the Confederate Yankee Erik Scott Archive.
In this post, made the same day as Update 3.2, Bob provided some interesting information on the cozy coincidences that have repeatedly popped up in this case. Such coincidences were certainly no surprise to residents of Las Vegas, but Bob and I were not yet aware of how pervasive was the systemic corruption in Las Vegas.
09-27-10: Witness in Scott Case May be Donor to D.A.
It is quite possible that the man in question is another Christopher Villareale entirely, or that the man who donated $500 to the District Attorney’s re-election war chest just happened to be an eyewitness to Erik Scott’s shooting at the hands of Las Vegas police.
If the latter, disclosure seems to be the order of the day, considering the high-profile and controversial nature of the coroner’s inquest.
This update was written largely in response to reader questions and information, including the suggestion that Scott’s Kimber .45 was removed from his waistband—in its holster—and placed on the ground at the scene of the shooting. This would have occurred after Scott was shot and would indicate that Officer Mosher, who handcuffed Scott after shooting him, did not find the weapon. At the time, this seemed so odd to me—based on my own police experience—I tended to question it. Subsequent evidence would teach me not to doubt the depth of incompetence or duplicity of Metro. The suggestion floated by Metro that Scott was carrying two guns was also first discussed in this update. Subsequent evidence has also proved that to be most unlikely, and almost certainly a lie which I suspect the upcoming civil trial in federal court will expose in spectacular fashion.
This update also discusses the realities of police shootings and suggests simple means by which Scott should have been approached, means that would have saved his life and protected the hundreds of bystanders, who, by what can only be described as a miracle, were not shot by the panicky fire of the Metro officers. Also introduced was Metro Captain Patrick Neville whose bizarre and obviously false spin releases on this case (and many others) helped to convince me that this was far more—and worse–than a bad shooting made by honest, but inept police officers.
09-27-10: The Erik Scott Shooting: Update 3.2
The next installment of this series, Update 4, which will analyze the 9-11 transcript presented at the Coroner’s Inquest and a partial radio transcript will be posted later this week, but so many readers have raised excellent questions, as they so often do, that answering those questions may serve to clarify portions of the earlier updates and to further enlighten future updates. Consider this post Update 3.2.
Please keep in mind, gentle readers, that all that we can do in this series, and all that we are trying to do, is to provide informed background and plausible analysis using the facts and testimony generally available to the public. We can, upon occasion, break new facts and details not generally available, and we can make reasonable inferences based on those facts and details, but what we will always do our best to avoid is unreasonable literary bomb throwing. If the facts, and the reasonable inferences drawn from them, indicate that the police (or any other party) are wrong, we’ll make that case and explain why we believe it’s so. But no one should expect blanket pronouncements of malign intent, murder and mayhem unsupported by fact or reason.
Several readers have been concerned about the police and their tendency toward perjury. Incredibly obvious and predictable disclaimer: Because the police are severely handicapped in hiring by being restricted to the human race, it is always possible that some police officers will behave inappropriately. They should not, but they do. That said consider that the majority of arrests made by any police officer (did you know that a traffic ticket is an arrest?) are misdemeanors, offenses routinely settled without jail time by small fines. Perjury, on the other hand, is commonly a felony virtually everywhere. My experience teaches that few officers will risk not only their reputations but their careers and potentially, their freedom, when so little is at stake. The other side of the coin is that when a great deal is at stake, when their reputations, careers and freedom might hang in the balance, perjury might become more likely. Such is the reality of human nature. Police officers are routinely accused of perjury. Have you ever heard anyone say: “Yeah, I got a speeding ticket today and the officer was completely justified in giving it to me?” I thought not. Should perjury be discovered and punished? Of course, but that’s a matter for each law enforcement agency and each community. If a given agency is rotten, community elected officials have the power to clean it out. If the elected officials refuse, citizens have the power to periodically clean them out. If the citizens refuse, they’re making a choice by not making a choice.
Information from another reader suggests that Erik Scott’s handgun was removed from his waistband holster by an EMT and placed on the ground. I’m unsure if that reader meant to say that an EMT removed the handgun, still in an inside the waistband holster, and placed it on the ground. According to the reader, this information comes from an EMT’s report of the incident, which apparently has not been made public, nor was it introduced during the Inquest. The photograph displayed during the Inquest depicts a 1911 type handgun in a holster that police said belonged to Scott and was photographed in place. I’m unaware of specific testimony regarding how it came to rest there, but the implication in line with the Police/Prosecutor theory is that Scott himself removed the weapon from his waistband at his back, holster and all, pointed it at the officers and dropped it at some point during the shooting.
If this is true, another bizarre and inexplicable element has been added to this case, so bizarre and inexplicable that I tend to discount it. If true, this means that after shooting and handcuffing Scott, the officers failed to disarm him, failing to remove even the weapon known to them. In other words, having, seconds earlier, apparently survived a deadly force encounter, the officers, through negligence, did nothing to remove all possibility of deadly, continuing danger to themselves and others. All available facts suggest that any officer handcuffing Scott should not have failed to detect his handgun, imprinted under his shirt, or partially exposed. Failing to remove and secure it would indicate such gross incompetence on the part of the officers that it is hard to believe and would require substantial proof to sustain, proof such as an EMTs report made public accompanied by that EMTs testimony, hopefully supported by the testimony of other EMTs. On the other hand, if it is true, the Police/Prosecution theory falls entirely apart. If EMTs found Scott’s handgun, in its holster still in his waistband after he had been shot and handcuffed, the officer’s claim that Scott pointed that weapon at them is, to put it very, very kindly, mistaken.
Another interesting tidbit is that the police have said that Scott was carrying two weapons, and at least one media outlet has indicated that “a second gun was found on Scott” by EMTs at some point in their contact with him, but I’ve not been able to find any details about just what that second weapon was, its chain of evidence, or how, if at all, if might have figured in this case other than to reflect very poorly on the officers involved whose search of Scott, post shooting, was apparently less than thorough. If he was carrying a second weapon, it’s unusual that it was apparently not prominently mentioned at the Inquest as it could potentially be used to depict Scott even more unfavorably. On the other hand, if the police did miss it, and an EMT did find it that would tend to make the police look less than competent.
There is, given the information available, another (but not the only) plausible possibility. Confused by rapidly shouted, conflicting commands, Scott tried to disarm himself, reaching behind his back and removing his handgun, still in its holster. Evidence suggests that he may have done this, even telling the officers that he was disarming. Considering this scenario, what remains unknown is when the police began to fire. Did the mere downward movement of his raised hand trigger their fire? Did they wait until his hand disappeared behind his back? Did they, seeing something that might have resembled a gun (in this case, in its holster), appearing from behind Scott’s back even though it was not pointed in their direction, open fire? The Police/Prosecution theory requires that Scott remove the weapon from his waistband and, at some point, drop it. Unfortunately, that weapon was clearly still in its holster.
Several readers have suggested that it did not matter, in making a deadly force decision, whether the weapon was or was not in its holster. If it was pointed at the officers, they had lawful justification to fire. This is a common scenario in shoot/don’t shoot training videos that one can reasonably expect officers of a major metropolitan agency to have experienced. Officers are expected to deal with exactly this kind of situation and train for it. Competent officers live in horror of shooting someone, even if completely justified, who turns out to have had in their hand a billfold or other item rather than the handgun the officer thought was there. Officers are expected to accurately make these distinctions before firing. Because they practice these scenarios, officers should be able to tell the difference, by observing a variety of factors, between someone trying to disarm or show them something, or someone in the drawing sequence of bringing a handgun on target from a holster. Officers do this successfully every day and untold thousands of citizens are alive because of their training and their ability to make these distinctions. To suggest that officers have no such duty would have disastrous consequences for us all, freeing officers to shoot at the most minute hint of, rather than at reasonably convincing evidence of, danger.
Another reader observed that officers were trained to shoot until they have stopped the actions that gave them justification to shoot and that initial action–a suspect preparing to shoot–is always faster than reaction–an officer’s response. Both are true, but with qualifications. Not only are officers trained to shoot to stop, they may legally use any number of rounds reasonably required, so long as they were initially justified in shooting. However, they are also responsible for each and every round fired and the safety of innocents. How then does one determine when the suspect has ceased hostilities and that shooting should stop? By observation. Officers must indeed be sufficiently aware of any situation so as to briefly pause after firing several rounds to determine if more are required. That this might take a second or less is not the issue. The only reasonable alternative is that once an officer fires a single round, they must empty their magazine until they are forced, by lack of ammunition, to finally assess the situation as they reload. This is obviously lunacy, but what other practical possibility exists? Action is indeed almost always faster than reaction, but officers understand this, and accepting it, train to overcome, to the greatest possible degree, this inherent disadvantage. This is absolutely necessary to prevent officers from firing too quickly with insufficient justification. No, they don’t have to absorb a suspect’s first round before returning fire, but there is a substantial range of action/response between firing too quickly and not responding properly. An officer’s actions in that gray area will be later judged by those who are not under fire and who have months to review decisions officers had to make in seconds. This too, police officers understand and grudgingly accept.
Another reader wondered about how the officers involved might have handled the approach to Scott differently. Officers train for situations of this kind, and again, to be kind, the approach in this shooting (based on what is currently known) does not appear to be what one would find in a “how to” textbook. In potential shooting situations, the police are trained to do whatever is necessary to control and contain the situation, and to the greatest degree possible, to protect the public. In other words, they should not do anything to provoke a firefight in the middle of a crowd. Of course, bad guys don’t always give the police that option.
In this case, there is evidence to suggest that the police knew or should have known that they had the element of surprise. Apparently one or more officers were near the Costco entrance, perhaps even inside, and Scott and his girlfriend Samantha Sterner, walked past them. At that point, the police apparently did not know that Scott was the man they sought, and his behavior was obviously unremarkable to those officers. Update 4 will provide additional details about this, including the fact that Shai Lierley, the Costco security employee was apparently following Scott in the store, keeping him in sight while relaying Scott’s actions in real time to a dispatcher by cell phone. The police did know, for one of the first officers on the scene had ordered the evacuation, that all of the Costco customers were trying, simultaneously, yet in an apparently orderly manner, to leave the main doors of the store. At some point, a store employee pointed to Scott, essentially yelling “there he is!” This was apparently the first moment that the responding officers knew that Scott was their suspect, and the officers, exposed and caught by surprise in the open, with many innocent citizens in the line of fire, drew their weapons and the deadly confrontation began.
What should the officers have done? Remember, please, that I do not have a diagram of the Costco store and parking lot and that many of the details that I, or any competent tactician would need to render a truly informed opinion are, at this point, unavailable. However, common police training and experience do suggest a better (though not the only possible) approach.
Without being able to recognize the suspect on sight, and knowing only that he was still inside the store and was not actively, continuously violent, maintaining the element of surprise by silently approaching the store (which may have been done), parking police vehicles out of sight of the front doors, and keeping uniformed officers out of sight would have been wise. In a parking lot full of cars, this would not have been difficult. Calling in plainclothes personnel such as detectives or administrators would have also been wise if time permitted.
The next (in fact, a continuing) concern should have been learning where Scott was and exactly what he was doing. As a field training officer, I always taught my trainees to, whenever possible, observe an animal in its natural habitat for a time before interacting with it. The officers should have identified Scott, kept their presence concealed and watched him for as long as possible. Absent an active shooter situation, which this clearly was not, this is almost always the smart thing to do. If, as this situation clearly indicated, Scott was unaware of the police and was showing every intention of simply walking to his vehicle, they should, while keeping him in sight, have allowed him to do just that. Why? To learn as much as possible about his state of mind and intentions through direct observation, to possibly locate his handgun, to minimize the possibility of a potential hostage situation and to separate Scott from the hundreds of customers streaming out of the store with him. Once Scott was in the parking lot, perhaps with many empty cars as a safer shooting backstop for errant rounds, only then should he have been confronted. Following this procedure would not only have been safer for the public, but would have allowed officers to maintain control of the situation, and to direct additional officers to keep citizens out of the line of fire as Scott was confronted.
A reader suggested that Scott might have been brought under physical control by officers, and this is a possibility, but in order to work, the take down must have been a total surprise allowing Scott no time to react–as anyone might react to being rushed or grabbed by several people by surprise–before the officers could take physical control of him, identify themselves, and with luck, allow him to relax and be disarmed. This could have been a viable option, but again, allowing Scott to separate himself from the rest of the crowd before taking any action should have been high on the officer’s priority list. Unfortunately, what is known suggests strongly that the officers were completely surprised by Scott’s appearance at the door, and caught in the open, immediately drew down on Scott and began to yell conflicting orders.
Interestingly, Metro Capt. Patrick Neville has said that none of the customers were ever in danger from police fire as the three officers ensured that a pillar that supported a canopy was the backdrop for their fire. To observe that this is, again to be kind, fanciful, is an understatement. Such a pillar could have scarcely been much wider than, if as wide as, a human torso, and would likely have been made of concrete, structural steel, or some combination of the two. Rounds striking it would not have been absorbed, but deflected at unpredictable angles. The only possible way that such a construct could have served as even a dangerous backstop is if it was directly behind Scott in a straight line with the officer’s fire, which would have to place them actually closer than shoulder to shoulder as they fired in order to ensure that each missed round fired struck the pillar dead center at an exact right angle to minimize the risk of ricochet. This is, of course, practically impossible. God forbid that any of them were behind the others as they fired (the potential consequences of that should be obvious).
One of the larger problems for the police will be exactly how many rounds were fired, who fired them, and where did each round come to rest? The police have acknowledged only seven rounds thus far and all were reportedly hits on Scott, none of which exited his body to strike anything else. At least one round, however, seems to have been a rather miraculous shot. As Update 3 pointed out, this kind of accuracy, while possible, is against the laws of probability. The idea that three officers, caught by surprise and engaging seconds later in a firefight would have the presence of mind to simultaneously pick out a pillar in the background, realize that it would serve as an appropriate bullet stop, and/or maneuver so as to place it at the termination of their line of fire, is utter, after the fact, dissembling nonsense. These issues should be pursued by the local media until they are convincingly and honestly answered or refuted.
Finally, for this update to an update, a commenter took exception to my assertion that we want police officers to be type A, adrenaline fueled personalities. Please allow me to elaborate. Police work has been said to be, quite accurately, 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror. Any police officer that will not admit to having been scared should be immediately suspect. All sane officers are, from time to time, scared. However, they are scared so often that they learn how to effectively control and channel that fear, that adrenaline that all humans experience as the fight or flight response to danger, or they leave police work. We do indeed want our police to be aggressive, apparently fearless, brave and assertive, but we expect them to be calm, rational, humane, analytical and right 100% of the time. Special forces soldiers must possess essentially the same personalities. They are commonly known as the quiet professionals. So it is with the police. They have an extraordinarily difficult job that makes extraordinary demands on them, demands that few human beings would want to experience or could handle. Yet, they know all of this and accept it. We honor them by demanding that they adhere to the highest standards of their profession and when we do not, we dishonor those who do.
Confederate Yankee will post Update 4 later in the week.
Two days later, the results of the inquest were announced. Bob covered that release of information.
09-29-10: As Expected, Kangaroo Inquest Clears Metro Cops That Killed Erik Scott
It was always a foregone conclusion that the coroner’s inquest would exonerate the three Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers that fired seven bullets into Erik Scott just outside the crowded doorway of an area Costco. The inquest process has cleared officers involved in a shooting since the days of disco, in more than 200 total incidents. In a process that allows law enforcement officials and the prosecution to shape the testimony and witness list without possibility of cross-examination, it is quite possible for Metro officers to literally get away with murder… or at least manslaughter.
And so last nights verdict came as no surprise: the officers were found justified.
Of course, we’re still left with more questions unanswered than answered by the broken system championed by Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who is up for reelection this year.
The Scott family says they plan to file a civil case against Costco and the Metro Police over Erik Scott’s death. Under cross-examination we may finally get some of the many missing answers in this disturbing case.
My co-blogger Mike McDaniel, who has written a brilliant series of posts analyzing the case thus far, is meticulously researching the timing of the 911 tape, and will be posting another review of the evidence in this case soon that I promise you won’t want to miss.
The coroner’s inquest is over. Now the investigation into the death of Erik Scott can really begin.
I’ll post Update 4 no later than Friday, November 11, 2011.
Pingback: The Erik Scott Case: Update 5, Reprised « Stately McDaniel Manor