Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Still Seeking Justice

Reprinted with permission of the Colorado Springs Independent

Erik Scott (right) never had a chance against Vegas police

Springs family dismisses lawsuit against Las Vegas police in son’s shooting death
By Pam Zubeck
Colorado Springs Independent
April 18-24, 2012
The cops in Las Vegas, Nev., got away with murder — again. At least that’s how local author and former Air Force flight test engineer Bill Scott sees the death of his son. Erik, 38, was gunned down by the Metropolitan Police Department on July 10, 2010, as he left a Costco store.
The case led to changes in inquest procedures and played a role in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s five-part investigative series published last year about Metro’s excessive use of force.
But one step in Scott’s search for justice ended in March, when Scott and his wife, Linda, dropped their federal wrongful death lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department, Sheriff Douglas Gillespie and the three shooters, Officers William Mosher, Joshua Stark and Thomas Mendiola. Mendiola has since been fired, after being charged in January with providing a handgun to a two-time felon.
The family asked the court to dismiss the case after the defendants asserted “qualified immunity,” which shields government officials from liability for the violation of an individual’s federal constitutional rights and “puts a brick on the scales of justice” against plaintiffs, Scott says.
Even if his family prevailed at the trial court level, the verdict would have been appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which “has an almost unbroken record of finding for police officers under qualified immunity,” he says.
Now, Scott is contemplating other ways to vindicate his son’s death.
“I firmly believe that Erik was murdered, the crime scene was corrupted, critical evidence was destroyed and fake evidence was manufactured and introduced,” Scott says, “and it was all done to protect an elaborate system that can only be described as a cartel of corruption.”
Erik Scott, a 1994 U.S. Military Academy grad with an MBA from Duke University, was shopping when a Costco employee noticed a handgun in his waistband and called a supervisor. Scott, a medical device salesman, explained the gun was registered and he had a concealed carry permit, but the employee said Costco’s policy forbids firearms, although it posts no signs at entrances and doesn’t mention the ban in membership applications.
The employee then told a manager, who notified a private security guard, who called police, saying a customer was acting erratically.
As Erik Scott walked to the exit, more than a dozen police cruisers rolled up. Officers jumped out, yelled conflicting commands at Scott — “Get on the ground!” “Drop your weapon!” “Keep your hands up!” — and then shot him within two seconds of issuing those commands, Scott says, citing dispatch recordings.
Mosher, who shot and killed a citizen in 2006, shot him twice, and Mendiola and Stark shot him five times in his back, after he fell, Scott says.
Police didn’t take possession of Costco’s video until five days later, but the segments of the shooting were found to be corrupted.
The same day as the shooting, the Public Administrator, a former Vegas officer, and a police officer used a locksmith to gain entry to Erik’s condo, where they confiscated a West Point saber mounted in a shadow box and a pistol he kept in a drawer, logging those items in police reports.
But after the search was conducted, the family realized two other handguns were missing and not logged in police reports. Scott contends the cops wanted a second gun, because they claimed Erik pulled a gun on them, prompting them to fire. But that story didn’t gibe with a report medics had written for their employer, American Medical Response, saying the gun was still on Erik, when he was placed inside the ambulance. Medics gave the gun to police, and photos of the shooting scene taken by police show a handgun and a phone on the pavement, after the pavement had been washed of blood, Scott says.
Police later claimed Erik was carrying two guns: one found by medics and a second he had drawn on officers. “He never carried a second gun,” his father says. Scott notes it would have been easy for police to learn about his son’s other guns, because Erik’s permit in his wallet listed all the guns he was licensed to carry.
“Everyone who testified [at the coroner’s inquest] said he was unremarkable and didn’t pose a threat,” Scott says.
But evidence at the inquest showed Erik had been taking pain killers — for a back injury, his doctor testified — leading authorities to depict him as a drug abuser, Scott says.
The shooting was ruled justified. Not surprising in a city where only one officer of the 194 involved in shooting incidents in 34 years was found at fault, and he wasn’t prosecuted, Scott says.
Research shows
The Scott case, the subsequent lawsuit and questions raised about other shootings prompted the Review-Journal to study local cops’ use of force. It found that since 1990, Clark County cops racked up 378 shootings, killing 142 people. Las Vegas officers were responsible for 81 percent of the deaths. Others happened in North Las Vegas and Henderson and other agencies. The newspaper also reported that frequency of killings in Clark County rose from an average of 12 a year from 1990 to 2000 to an average of 21 a year since then.
In comparison, the Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office logged six officer-involved shootings each from 2008 through 2011, an average of three per year. Springs Police killed three people, while sheriff’s deputies killed four.
In one case, the newspaper reported, “On Feb. 28, 2003, Las Vegas police officer Brian Hartman shot Orlando Barlow in the back while the unarmed man was on his knees, surrendering to other officers, who had holstered their weapons and were moving in to arrest him for domestic violence.” Like the others over the years, the shooting was ruled justified.
Scott says Vegas cops also are vengeful. In the days after his son’s death, Erik’s friends placed magnetic ribbons bearing his name on their cars. One co-worker got two traffic tickets in one day. Another was followed home by a cop. Erik’s girlfriend was ticketed three times in three weeks, with one cop saying, “You may want to think about that Erik Scott ribbon. Have a nice day.”
Moving on
Now, 20 months later, Scott’s first waking thoughts are about Erik, though the pressure of the lawsuit and media interviews have faded.
But the ordeal has left Scott embittered and defiant, despite a small victory achieved in changing the inquest system to allow an ombudsman to represent victims’ families. Before, family members could only suggest questions that were left to the discretion of a judge. Even that small change led cops to refuse to cooperate, with the police union arguing the change violates their Fifth Amendment rights. As a result, “they have a backlog of inquest hearings,” Scott says.
The family hasn’t decided whether to file a lawsuit against Costco, but financial considerations may complicate that option.
Scott, who’s written two books on space warfare, based on nearly two dozen years as an aviation writer, is penning a fictionalized account of his son’s death called “The Permit,” to be published in coming months.
“If we’d gone for a financial settlement, I guarantee you part of it would be Scott can’t do any books — no movies, no documentaries. I would have been muzzled for the rest of my life,” he says. “It was never about the money. It was about justice and helping the people of Las Vegas root out this cartel of corruption.”
Scott won’t disclose his next strategy but says those steps include New York, California and Washington, D.C.
“I have no constraints on me now,” he says. “We like to think we can do more good and eventually attain justice of some sort.”