Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Inquest into Erik Scott's Death - Day 4

The Las Vegas Sun's minute-by-minute account of the fourth day of the coroner's inquest into the death of Erik Scott can be found here.

My own reactions appear below.

The fourth day of the inquest began with yet more eyewitness testimony about the shooting of Erik Scott on July 10th, 2010. Again, these accounts contained irregularities, but these differences were what I would deem negligible.

For instance, there have been differing accounts of what Erik Scott did just before he was shot. While all accounts agree that Erik made some sort of gesture with his right hand towards his own side or back, they differ as to what that gesture was. Some witnesses say that Erik Scott pulled out a weapon from his waistband and held it out towards the police. Other witnesses have recounted that Erik Scott merely pulled his shirt up, perhaps as if to show the police that there was a weapon in his waistband.

In any case, it seems clear to me that Erik Scott did not comply with police intentions to surrender & comply with them in a non-threatening manner. Though there has been some disagreement about just exactly what words were used by the police, their intent seems clear. The police wanted Erik Scott to surrender to submit himself to their custody.

Furthermore, the District Attorney addressed the issue of the possibly contradictory commands given by Officer Mosher to Erik Scott (i.e., to either get down on the ground or to drop his weapon). The District Attorney has plausibly contended that Officer Mosher's changing commands were in response to a "dynamic situation" that possibly included Erik Scott first stopping and turning around to face the police and then reaching for his weapon. In such a scenario, it is perfectly reasonable that Officer Mosher changed his commands from "get down on the ground" to "drop it" as heard in the 911 call played on the second day of testimony.

It also seems clear to me that Erik Scott did not respond to police in a way that would be consistent with his own training. Based on the sum of the testimony given, Erik Scott, when confronted by police officers who were pointing their weapons at him, made some sort of movement that could reasonably interpreted as threatening. And this tragic mistake killed him.

I get the feeling that Erik Scott would still be alive today if he had just frozen when he was confronted by the police. If he had made no movement at all (which would still not have complied with Officer Mosher's commands to get down on the ground), Erik Scott would have been safely subdued by the police rather than shot by them. Instead, Erik moved his right arm in such a way that the police felt the need to respond with gunfire.

Now, I am a proponent of gun possession, and I support the rights of those who feel the need to carry handguns on their person. But the reality of an armed populace necessitates that the police approach every situation with the suspicion that gun violence is a possibility. Citizens, especially those who carry firearms, need to realize this and act accordingly. This is why you should keep your hands on the steering wheel when you get pulled over by the police while driving your car. And Erik Scott's own training and experience made him intimately aware of this danger.

I am no apologist for the police. I regard them as a necessary evil, like politicians and dietary fiber. And I wonder why the police do not have a more active policy of using non-lethal methods to subdue suspects, such as using tasers. I'm no expert, and such methods may not be practical or particularly effective. But I can't help feeling that Erik Scott could have been safely detained using a taser in a way that protected everyone's safety and that would not have ended in his death.

Indeed, one of the eyewitnesses, a doctor who testified during today's session of the inquest, expressed exactly this thought. He felt that the police had ample opportunity to subdue Erik Scott using non-lethal means. It's a sad commentary on society that we have more proficient means of killing someone than we have of safely incapacitating them. Mankind has always been most adept at violence.

Now, what if Erik Scott wasn't actually reaching for his weapon, but, like Amadou Diallo in 1991, was merely reaching for his wallet or cellphone? The discrepancies in the witness' testimonies so far leave room for this possibility. And the unfortunate absence of direct video surveillance deprives us of visual proof of what happened. But the fact remains that holding out something towards the police was in direct violation of both the oral commands being shouted at Erik Scott and his own training.

Again, I feel the need to express my sympathy for the aggrieved Scott family. They are caught in the impossible position of defending their deceased son in very public and potentially embarrassing circumstances. They have naturally risen to the defense of their son's character, as his life's story has become inevitably tainted by the events of July 10th, 2010.

But I reject the notion that Erik Scott's life should be defined by the incident that led to his tragic death. I never knew Erik Scott, but it sounds like he was an interesting character, a motivated individual with an accomplished personal history. None of us is perfect, but Erik Scott's father has more than enough reason to be proud of his son.

If, as a result of the public scrutiny that Erik Scott's death has drawn towards police procedures and our county's inquest process, changes are made to improve them, then perhaps his family can be granted some semblance of satisfaction to help with their grief.

I myself would like to see, as I've mentioned before, a better police policy of using non-lethal means to subdue suspects. And I wouldn't mind if the inquest process were expanded to include an attorney (either a public defender or an appointed lawyer with subpoena powers) who would represent the interests of the victim and who would be allowed to cross-examine all witnesses. Of course, this would probably just complicate the inquest process to a hopeless degree, turning every such proceeding into a de-facto trial.

On a more petty note, during the course of today's proceedings, the judge had to admonish the assembled observers that, although he understood that Erik Scott's death is a highly-charged issue that has naturally caused feelings to run high, the judge would not tolerate any violations of decorum anywhere in the courthouse. This admonishment was apparently in response to some sort of altercation that occurred during the morning break.

I agree with the judge that the highly-charged nature of Erik Scott's death is no excuse to violate the sanctity of the courthouse, which is where our society brings its conflicts in order to be adjudicated according to the rule of law. But human nature being what it is, such an altercation is hardly surprising.

The next session of this inquest begins at 10 a.m. on Monday. I wonder if it will bring any surprises or just more evidence to bolster the supposition that this shooting was justified or at least excusable.

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