In this update, I explored significant new information: Clark County Deputy Public Administrator Steve Grodin is a retired police officer. This single fact removes virtually any claim Grodin could have to ignorance about what he and the police were doing in searching Erik Scott’s home and seizing property from it hours after Scott’s death. In the not too distant future, Grodin will have much very uncomfortable explaining to do.
As always, those interested in reading the comments that accompanied each original article should visit the Confederate Yankee Erik Scott Archive.
05-17-11: The Erik Scott Case, Update 11.3: The Post-Mortem Search of Scott’s Home Revisited
NOTE: THIS POST WAS UPDATED 05-22-11. SEE THE END OF THE ORIGINAL POST FOR THE UPDATE.
Whenever I begin to think that the Scott case could not become more convoluted or bizarre, something new turns up. In recent updates, I’ve focused on issues that are not absolutely central to the Scott case, but that are closely related, and that tend to shed additional light on the culture and procedures of Metro and Las Vegas. It is that culture and those procedures that almost certainly made Erik Scott’s death likely, and that continue to result in beatings and worse for citizens of Las Vegas. This update, however, returns to one of the central issues of the aftermath of the shooting of Scott.
Update 6, October 14, 2010 was dedicated to the extra-legal activities of one Steve Grodin, Deputy Public Administrator of Clark County. After the shooting of Erik Scott at approximately 1300 on July 10, 2010, Grodin almost immediately began to call Erik’s brother Kevin Scott demanding permission to enter Erik’s home, ostensibly to protect it and the firearms and valuables within. Kevin Scott was then traveling across the nation by air, and Grodin made a number of additional calls, actually claiming that he had absolute authority to enter Scott’s home and seize property within, but still trying to get Kevin’s permission, permission that Kevin unfailingly refused to give. Eventually, sometime after 1900, against Kevin’s clearly expressed wishes and against the orders of the only person who had legal control of the property under Nevada law–Erik’s girlfriend and co-resident Samantha Sterner–Grodin, accompanied by at least one Metro officer, used a locksmith to enter the home and to seize property.
Before we continue, here are links to related information:
For Update 6, 10-14-10, go here.
For Update 7, 10-23-10, go here.
For “Vegas Media Wakes Up,” 02-26-11, go here.
For “Linkedin” information on Steve Grodin, go here.
NOTE: The audio recording of Grodin’s call to Kevin Scott is no longer posted on YouTube.
As Update 6 explains in detail, the police had no cause to enter Scott’s home or to seize anything within. His home and its contents were completely removed in time and space from his death at the hands of the police at the Summerlin Costco; they had no relation whatever to the shooting and thus had no value as evidence–one doesn’t prosecute dead men–and could not be the proceeds of a crime as Scott committed no crimes prior to his death. No rational judge would authorize a search warrant absent a falsified affidavit, and the police surely could not afford something like that to be found. Having no warrant, and an urgent–one might be tempted to say panicky–need to get into the home, the police used Grodin, acting in his role as Deputy Public Administrator, to bring their plan to fruition.
Putting aside the fact that the police had no warrant and therefore no lawful authority to enter Scott’s home, there was another major problem. Nevada law expressly prohibits the Public Administrator’s office from being involved with any estate “held in joint tenancy unless all joint tenants are deceased.” This entirely rational prohibition keeps the PA’s office from, for instance, seizing the home and property of a man who has died while his widow is still alive and in control of the property. In the Scott case, Sterner was clearly a joint tenant. She actually lived there with Scott, had the requisite keys, her clothing and other property was there, and she told the police–and Grodin–repeatedly, that she lived there and consistently refused them entry. Scott’s property–their joint property–was in no danger; Sterner was in control of it. Yet the police and Grodin not only entered and selectively seized property, they installed a new lock and refused to give her the keys, locking her out of her own home on the day that the police killed the man she lived with and loved within inches of her. She was not able to reenter her home until Kevin Scott could fly in from out of state a day later to obtain and give the new keys to her.
If the police and Grodin knew they had no authority to enter the home, if the only lawful joint tenant, Samantha Sterner, refused them entry, why did they keep calling Kevin Scott to ask his permission, why did they ultimately enter the home and what did they take?
Obviously, the police and Grodin weren’t thinking clearly–if obeying the law was their goal. Yet, to them it was crystal clear that they could not acknowledge Sterner as the joint tenant of the residence. She could not be allowed to take them to the residence and let them in, because no one could be allowed to see what they hoped to find and take. After all, if she, using her key, let them in her home, how could they possibly say that there was no one to safeguard it? Therefore, they had to maintain the fiction that they were honestly trying to safeguard the property, a property that needed no safeguarding. So they repeatedly called Kevin Scott and made a great show of asking his permission, this despite the fact that under Nevada law Kevin had no more authority to give such permission than a random passerby.
Why were they so desperate to enter the home? In Update 7 I outlined a theory of the case that well fits the known facts. It was necessary to the Metro story of the shooting that Scott be carrying his Ruger LCP .380 pistol at the time he was shot, that he be carrying a backup handgun that those who knew, loved and lived with him maintain he never carried but kept in his home as a home defense weapon. Metro knew of this pistol because his locally required “blue card” for that handgun was in his wallet, a wallet freshly stained with his blood and recovered from his body shortly after the shooting and before he was transported to the hospital. Scott was not, of course, actually carrying the gun at the Costco, only his Kimber .45 ACP pistol, so it had to be found and seized.
The police searched Sterner’s car, which was in the Costco lot. This is significant in that it, like Scott’s home, had no relation at all to the shooting. There was no legitimate legal reason to search it, but obviously, the police hoped to find the Ruger. Sterner, not knowing what they wanted at the time and in shock, gave them permission. They were disappointed—the Ruger was not in the car; nothing relating to the shooting was in the car–making the search of Scott’s home mandatory. It was only there that the Ruger could be found. Read Update 7 to discover the very logical reason why this small, black handgun figures so prominently in the Scott case and why it explains Metro and Grodin’s panicky desperation to get into Scott’s home.
The police and Grodin took a variety of items including a watch, several firearms, a ceremonial saber mounted in a shadow box given to Scott by his parents upon his graduation from West Point, a paintball gun and several other items. The Ruger–which was displayed by the Police at the Inquest–never appeared on police evidence forms as having been collected at Scott’s home, and the items cataloged by Grodin were returned to the Scotts–at considerable expense–within a few weeks, an unusually rapid procedure, according to those who have dealt with the PA’s Office. The Ruger did not appear on police documents because it had to be “discovered” on Scott in the ambulance. It was taken in an almost certainly illegal search and Metro’s fingerprints, literally and figuratively, could not appear on it.
On February 26, 2011 I posted a short article noting that the local Las Vegas media had finally gotten around (more than five months after I wrote about it) to mentioning the involvement of the Public Administrator’s Office in the Scott case, but they did not mention or interview Grodin or deal with any of the real issues in a meaningful way, merely accepting platitudes from John Cahill, the elected Public Administrator.
I revisit the issue in this update because I’ve discovered something about which I was not aware at the time, something that removes any benefit of the doubt I accorded Grodin in Update 6: Steve Grodin is a retired police officer. On the Linkedin site, he is listed thus:
Steven Grodin Investigator at Public Administrator’s Office Las Vegas, Nevada Area / Government Administration Current: Investigator at Public Administrator’s Office Past: Investigator at Cook County Sheriff’s Department, Retired Officer / Investigator at COOK COUNTY SHERIFF’S POLICE Education: SIU
Linkedin bills itself as the “World’s Largest Professional Network.” It is essentially a social networking site, and those who choose to participate do so voluntarily and enter their own information on the site, as Grodin no doubt did. For example, the word “administrator” is consistently misspelled on the entry, unlikely on a professionally posted and entered site. Unless this entry on the site is in some way falsified–and there is no known evidence of that–or unless there are two Steven Grodins working for the Clark County Public Administrator’s Office, it is reasonable to conclude that Steve Grodin, Deputy Clark County PA, does have a significant police background with all of the experience and knowledge that implies.
Why is this significant? Because in Update 6, I assumed that Grodin had no law enforcement background, and as such, had no real idea of the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment, the part of the Bill of Rights from which case law regarding search and seizure comes. I essentially assumed that Mr. Grodin might have been misled by the Police who told him only enough to enlist his aid without telling him anything about their real intentions. I wrote that update making clear that even if Grodin knew nothing of the law regarding searches, the police surely did. I also made a distinction between the legal liability of the police and Mr. Grodin, observing that he would, as a civilian with presumably no law enforcement experience or knowledge, likely have no such liability, particularly if he was being used by the police and had no idea what they intended. It now seems certain that this was not then, and certainly is not now, the case.
The term “investigator” is essentially interchangeable with “detective,” and is common in American law enforcement. Such officers are higher ranking than patrol officers and enjoy status as specialized criminal investigators who routinely deal with search and seizure issues. They would know how to make search warrant applications, how to make affidavits and returns, and would well know all of the law, policies and issues relating to searches. For Detectives, this is simply part of their daily work. Such knowledge is expected of them.
Consider too that the fact that the police did not seek a search warrant is particularly revealing. Searches incident to police shootings are always done with warrants for many compelling reasons. That there was apparently not even an attempt to obtain a warrant in this case unquestionably indicates that the police knew that they had no grounds for obtaining a warrant and that no competent, honest judge would issue one.
As a former detective/investigator, Steve Grodin would certainly understand the issues relating to searching Scott’s home over and beyond the small body of Nevada law relating to Public Administrators, a body of law he also ignored (the relevant statutes are posted in Update 6). Steve Grodin cannot credibly claim to be an uninformed public servant doing the bidding of the police in good faith; he knows better. If the police have in fact broken the law as seems likely, he may be, at the least, an accessory after the fact. This is a possibility that Mr. Grodin would be wise to consider with care as the Scott case, unlike virtually every police shooting before it, is not going away.
In Update 6, I asked several questions about the search and seizure of Scott’s home. Some remain, and others have been raised by the knowledge that Grodin must have known that the search and seizure were illegal.
(1) How exactly was Grodin involved? We know that he began calling Kevin Scott shortly after Erik Scott was killed. The Police at the scene, shortly after the shooting, found Erik’s blue card for the Ruger, and searched for it in Sterner’s car at the Costco. The only logical explanation is that the police called Grodin, and likely, specifically Grodin.
(2) Is Steve Grodin Metro’s “go-to guy” at the Public Administrator’s office? How often have they used him in the past? How often has he accompanied the police on cases, and which cases? How many of those cases involved the deaths of citizens at the hands of the police? PA Cahill asserted that his office often accompanies the police. Do the police know that because of Grodin’s background, he is willing to “help” them with unusual “problems?” Or did the officers who contacted Grodin lie to him, tricking him into arguably violating the law?
This is unlikely for several obvious reasons. Grodin, by means of his background, must have known that the police were enlisting his aid because they could not obtain a warrant, or because they did not want to leave a paper trail, in essence because they wanted to operate outside the law and wanted his agency to provide cover. Perhaps, particularly if Grodin has had a long-standing relationship with Metro, he simply knew what to do when he got the call. Ask no questions; do what he was asked to do; avoid knowing anything he wasn’t supposed to know. Grodin had to know that he was being used to conduct unusual, improper, probably illegal business on behalf of the police. Did he ask why they needed his help? Did he ask if they had a warrant, and if not, why not? What was he told? In any case, Grodin had to know that what he was doing was wrong and that it likely violated the law.
(3) Who contacted Steve Grodin and what did they tell him? How many officers accompanied him to Scott’s home and what were their names? What did he and the officers discuss, exactly?
(4) How did Grodin know, as he told Kevin Scott, that he was looking for “firearms?” Did the police tell Grodin about the Ruger? Who found it in Scott’s home and what did they do with it?
(5) Why was Grodin, with his background and knowledge, willing to assist the police in arguably breaking the law?
As always, it is possible that I am making errors small or large because I simply don’t have all the facts, no one does. Metro is not releasing that information, so I must rely on experience. But in the matter of the search of Scott’s home and the seizure of property within, there is little chance of error. The Fourth Amendment establishes clear criteria for search and seizure and the fact remains that the police had no grounds to enter Scott’s home or to take anything from it. The fact remains that the Public Administrator’s office likewise had no grounds under the PA statutes to enter Scott’s home or to take anything from it. Now that it’s clear that Steve Grodin had to have known better, there can be no doubt about what happened. That said, as always, I will be pleased to promptly make any necessary corrections if the necessity of making them is brought to my attention.
I will be sending the Las Vegas media this update and encouraging them to follow up. No doubt, the Scott family attorneys will also be asking these questions, and more. I will, of course, continue to report developments as they arise.
UPDATE ADDED 05-22-11:
Concerning the relationship of Erik Scott and Samantha Sterner, frequent commenter “Federale” writes:
Since they were room-mates, or more accurately, living as man and wife, but in sin, there is no legal relationship between the two. Therefore she had no authority to either approve or deny access. Some people are under the impression that sleeping together gives one legal rights and privileges. It does not. If Scott had made her an honest woman by marrying her, then the story would have been different. But under Nevada law neither sibling nor the person he was having sex with had any authority over Scott’s estate.
Fornication outside marriage may be fun, but does not confer any legal status.
Only Nevada Revised Statute 253.0415 2(a) addresses joint tenancy in the context of the duties of the Public Administrator (Section 253 is the section of the statutes dealing with Public Administrators). This section specifically prohibits a Public Administrator’s involvement where a “joint tenant” exists. Only if all joint tenants are deceased may a Public Administrator be involved. Section 111 of the NRS deals with joint tenancy, but in the specific context of wills and similar agreements, and the disposition (sale and acquisition) of real property—real estate such as homes and land—and makes clear that joint tenancy may be between man and wife, and/or “others.” This is entirely rational and necessary statutory language, but it does not specifically, in express or implied language, apply to section 253.
Police officers deal with securing cars, apartments and homes on a daily basis, usually when they arrest their owners. Officers do not, in such circumstances, demand to review marriage licenses, deeds, court rulings, or other paperwork. If they reasonably believe that another responsible adult can safely take possession of a car, apartment or home, they allow them to do so. Roommates frequently take over for those arrested or otherwise indisposed, as do friends, neighbors, or other responsible adults willing to assume the responsibility. All of this is within a police officer’s discretion.
What might give them a reasonable belief? That fact that the person involved has the keys to the residence, or lives with the person arrested, that all of their clothing and possessions are present in the residence as opposed to contained in a few boxes in a corner of a living room, that the person is an obviously sober, responsible adult. Such was the case with Samantha Sterner. All of these factors are more are commonly taken into consideration. In all of my years of police work, I, and every officer I have ever known, would not have hesitated to recognize Sterner as the legitimate joint tenant/resident of the home she shared with Erik Scott.
Officers often deal with unmarried couples in search and seizure situations. Generally speaking the law is quite clear, as is common, professional police procedure. Unmarried people living together may consent or withhold consent to search any areas they use in common. If two roommates, for example, do not grant the other unrestricted access to their bedrooms, then only they may consent to a search of their bedroom, but both may consent for common areas. In the case of an unmarried couple who have no such restricted access, either is fully responsible for the entire dwelling and may indeed deny or grant the authorities access.
As I noted in past updates, in any case where access is denied, the police have one option: obtain a search warrant. That they did not do so in the Scott case speaks volumes. Any competent investigator working a police shooting case would absolutely demand that any related search be done with a warrant if for no other reason than to ensure that no inadvertent mistakes are made which might later harm the case, or simply, which might make them look incompetent. That they did not obtain a warrant directly suggests that the officers knew that they did not have lawful grounds to obtain one. Using Deputy Public Administrator Steve Grodin suggests that they were desperate to enter that home with or without lawful authority and needed Grodin to provide cover. Update 7 contains a theory of why the police considered that search mandatory.
Indeed, Kevin Scott did not have authority to consent to a search. He didn’t live there, not even in the same state, and was not a joint tenant. Samantha Sterner was, but she was ignored to provide cover for the search. After all, who took custody of the residence after they were able to get the new keys from Kevin Scott? Samantha Sterner, the woman who actually lived there and had unrestricted access to and control of the home. In any normal circumstance, the police would surely have recognized that and listened to Sterner. In this case, they had compelling, likely illegal, reasons to do otherwise.
The law recognizes and the police understand that unmarried people live together for a wide variety of reasons and under a wide variety of circumstances. That two people are not married matters no more in the circumstances under discussion here than their respective race or gender. Being unmarried does not exclude one from control of or responsibility for a home, a car or other property. If I loan a friend my car for a month, I have granted them complete control over that vehicle for that time, and no written, legal document is required. If I fall in love with a woman and we decide to live together, there is no question that we share joint custody and control of our dwelling, absent any specific limiting agreement, which again, need not be in writing. If I have a female roommate, the same applies. If my sister moves into my home, absent agreed restrictions, she too is my joint tenant under the law—to say nothing of common sense—and has all the rights and responsibilities that my wife would enjoy, even if my wife is also living there.
None of this is unusual. There is a substantial, clear body of Fourth Amendment law, including many cases decided by the US Supreme Court, which defines and confirms exactly what I outline here.
Whatever intimate relationship a couple might enjoy—and in this case, “Federale” is making assumptions and allusions not supported by any known or knowable evidence–is also immaterial. In short, no one is in any position to label Erik Scott or Samantha Sterner fornicators, nor would any possible intimate relationship, or lack thereof, have any bearing whatever on this case.
In fact, police officers are almost universally prohibited from imposing their moral beliefs on others. Police officers may think whatever they like, but they must treat everyone with dignity and respect while on the job. Allowing their religious or moral strictures to interfere with their work, or to color the manner in which they deal with the public is grossly unprofessional and keeps them from serving the public and doing their jobs. Any rational person considering this can surely see the wisdom and necessity involved.
I’ll leave it to the good sense and good manners of our readers to consider the motivations and character of any who would speak of the dead and of an innocent woman, a woman brutalized and harassed by the very police that shot and killed the man she loved, in this manner.