Monday, September 27, 2010

The Inquest into Erik Scott's Death - Day 5

Once again, the Las Vegas Sun has a witness-by-witness blog of the fifth day of the coroner's inquest into the death of Erik Scott that is available here.

And, once again, my own reactions appear below.

After yet another parade of eyewitnesses, the basic picture of what happened on July 10, 2010, has not changed. When confronted by Officer Mosher just outside the exit of Costco Wholesale, Erik Scott was shot several times after he appeared to pull something from his waistband with his right hand and to raise it towards the police in direct violation of the verbal commands that Officer Mosher was shouting. Tragically, Erik Scott died as a result.

The fifth day's most interesting testimony came from a public defender named Harold Brooks. It isn't surprising that his account of what happened as the police shot Erik Scott differs in detail from other witnesses. There have been lots of disagreements on details. But those differences are minor, such as whether Officer Mosher yelled at Erik Scott to get down on the ground or drop his weapon or both.

And Mr. Brooks's testimony about how his memory conflicts with forensic reports about the bullet wounds that Erik Scott suffered is yet another example of the unreliability of individual eyewitness testimony. Mr. Brooks himself pretty much admitted this when he seemed to shrug off the fact that he never saw Erik Scott get shot in the chest, despite the medical examiner's finding that two bullets struck Erik Scott there. In my opinion, Mr. Brooks tacitly admitted that the forensic evidence effectively trumps his recollection on this point.

But what makes Harold Brooks's testimony so interesting are his reactions to what he saw. Obviously, Mr. Brooks's occupation as a public defender has made him extremely skeptical of law-enforcement, and he made a couple of points that, to me, bear further exploration.

First, the decision to evacuate the building may indeed have been an overreaction. As Mr. Brooks put it, Erik Scott had, at worst, committed "essentially a misdemeanor" at the time that the police decided to tell Costco Wholesale personnel to evacuate their store so that Erik Scott could be confronted as he exited. Up until now, no one has testified that Erik Scott used the weapon (or weapons) in his possession to threaten anyone. Nor did he say anything that was a direct threat.

I am not faulting Costco Wholesale personnel for calling the police. I take at face value their assertions that Erik Scott acted in such a way as to necessitate such a call. Remember, a Costco Wholesale manager testified earlier that Erik Scott made a very provocative gun-like gesture towards this manager's head while they were talking. I am just echoing Mr. Brooks's own conclusion that the police themselves may have needlessly escalated the situation by ordering an evacuation before attempting to interact with Erik Scott inside the store.

Of course, this may just be another instance of hindsight being clearer than forethought, because we have to remember that these police officers were reacting to a limited and troubling set of facts. They had been called to Costco Wholesale to investigate reports of an armed individual who was acting in a "erratic" manner, who was damaging store property, and who had been asked to leave. That it has later come to light that Erik Scott was not actually asked to leave is immaterial on this point. The police had been told otherwise.

But, would it have been so dangerous for the police, after ascertaining that Erik Scott had not made any actual threats to anyone, to enter the store to engage in a conversation with him?

Again, such a question may just be another instance of armchair quarterbacking. After all, the police did not know that Erik Scott was licensed to carry a concealed weapon. Plus, if the reports that Erik was acting as if he were chemically-impaired were credible (as the medical examiner's toxicology reports now show), then Erik was acting in violation of the law by having firearms in his possession while under the influence of narcotics.

In other words, all the police knew when they arrived at Costco Wholesale was that there was an armed man in the store who was possibly drunk or high and who would not leave when asked to leave by management. So their decision to evacuate the store, which they knew was crowded and therefore posed a dangerous complication, may have been perfectly justified.

Mr. Brooks's other point about how many shots were fired is also worth exploring. It is Mr. Brooks's contention that Officer Mosher's shots were enough to clearly incapacitate Erik Scott and that the additional bullets fired by the other police officers were nothing more than "gratuitous violence."

It's important to note that, on the first day of the inquest, the medical examiner testified that Erik Scott had been shot seven times, twice in the front and five times in the back. At first blush, these numbers seem excessive.

However, I'm not sure that there is such thing as a "shoot to incapacitate" policy in law-enforcement. In fact, my understanding is that firearms are only ever used as instruments of "lethal force." So, once the criteria in a particular situation calls for the use of firearms, such as a suspect raising a potential weapon towards the police, then lethality becomes the only logical outcome. In other words, when the circumstances dictate that the police should fire their weapons, they are thereby authorized to kill their target as efficiently and effectively as possible, which is why all of the assembled officers fired their weapons.

So, while Mr. Brooks's reservations about the number of shots that were fired seem reasonable, from a law-enforcement standpoint, such reservations are impractical. As I've said before, this needs to change. The police need better technologies and more effective policies for non-lethal techniques of subduing suspects while still ensuring everyone's safety. As of now, perhaps this means the expanded use of tasers.

The other officers who shot Erik Scott should take the stand tomorrow. I eagerly await their testimonies.

In the meantime, I shall once again express my sympathies for Erik Scott's family. While I have argued that it seems to me that, based on the evidence presented thus far, this inquest will more than likely find that the shooting of Erik Scott by the police was justified (or at least excusable), I do not mean to imply that this means that Erik Scott deserved to die.

If this seems like a paradoxical position to you, I can only assure you that it is.


  1. Bro, I think this one is pretty simple. One, there is little to no reason to necessitate bringing multiple fireamrs into a retail store (in summerlin no less). Two, carrying the "false bravado" you should be MORE mindful of escalating confrontational situations. Lastly, WTF are you doing high on morphine and xanax walking around with firearms. Bottom line, I have a very difficult time believing that had he not pointed a weapon that the police would have shot him. Essentially, acting like an arrogant, overcompensating hot head got this man killed. He had numerous opportunities in the course of this hour to make a correct decision that would have saved his life. Were the police officers supposed to wait until they got shot at first?

  2. he (Scott) was clearly not in his right mind. I counter that by stating that he obviously put himself in that position by making the decision to take X,Y,Z drugs. As for non-lethal force, there have been many deaths by taser, too. Just had one here in Minneapolis. Of course, pepole are up on arms about the taser as a weapon. People have been killed by bean bag rounds, too. Side note: Leave it to a public defender to call Metro's actions 'gratuitous violence' God bless PD's for the job they do though - as somebody not trained in the legal system, I know I couldn't do it. I hope people will move on from this now. Except the Scott family will now go on to sue Metro, Costco, witnesses....