Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008 | 12:03 p.m.
A witness to a police shooting is disputing Henderson police accounts that a mother who was shot and killed in front of her children was a threat to officers.
“It was unjustified; it was aggressive. The woman should never have been shot,” she said. “They are saying she was charging at them. They were never in harm’s way from this woman.”
The witness, who said she gave police a statement but asked she not be identified in this story, challenged the police department’s account of what happened Feb. 12, after Zyber Selimaj’s wife came to assist her husband, who had been pulled over for speeding and running a stop sign near Pecos Ridge Parkway and Sunridge Heights Parkway.
The witness says she never saw a knife in Deshira Selimaj’s hand, as police say, and never observed her make any aggressive motions toward officers.
She said police missed ample opportunities to arrest the hysterical woman without incident.
“All those memories I just want to get rid of,” she said. “It was just unreal, like in a movie. People saying, 'Why did they shoot her?’ The cries and screams of the children and her husband. It was just not right.”
The woman, who lives in the neighborhood, said she had just dropped off her son for tutoring at nearby Coronado High School, when she drove past Zyber Selimaj, who had been pulled over while driving his ice cream truck, sitting on the sidewalk.
“I don’t know what made me turn back around, but something did,” she said.
She stopped her car near the median on Pecos Ridge Parkway and, with her head out the window, watched events unfold from what she estimated as 25 to 35 feet away.
By then, Deshira Selimaj had arrived in her ice cream truck and was waving her hands frantically up and down as four policemen surrounded her with guns drawn. The witness said it appeared the woman, who was Albanian, was trying to communicate with authorities using her limited English.
“I heard the word 'down,’ as in 'put your guns down,’” she said. “She was stomping her feet. She was mad.”
The witness said at no point did she hear police give any commands to Deshira Selimaj.
“They just kept approaching her,” she said. “She was not approaching them. She just continued to scream at them.”
Police have said a language barrier hindered communication, and Selimaj refused several orders to drop a knife. Police also said Zyber and Deshira Selimaj made suicidal statements during the encounter.
Ann Purser, attorney for Zyber Selimaj, said the man thought that by signing a traffic citation, he would go to jail. She said the police officer could have called for an interpreter, either in person or via telephone, but instead called Deshira Selimaj.
“She doesn’t speak well, either,” Purser said.
Purser said any suicidal statements can be attributed to the language barrier. The Selimajes probably were saying if Zyber Selimaj went to jail, he would die, Purser said.
The witness said the mother was not in danger of harming her 7- and 11-year-old sons, whom Deshira Selimaj had taken to the scene with her. She said the mother was motioning them behind a roadside electrical box, trying to protect them.
“At one point, she was holding the little boy’s hand,” she said.
Henderson police painted a different picture of what happened, saying Deshira Selimaj held a knife to her son’s throat as if to take him captive.
After police grabbed the children, the witness said, they began frisking the 11-year-old.
“She sat down on the cement Indian-style,” the witness said. “They had every opportunity to arrest her.”
Later, when the woman tried to get up, police shocked her with a Taser.
“She stumbled and fell down,” the witness said. “She immediately tried to get back up. That’s when they shot her.”
The witness said a single bullet was fired. The coroner ruled she died from a gunshot wound in the abdomen.
Henderson police have identified the officer who fired the shot as 23-year-old Luke Morrison, who has been on the force for just two years. He is currently on paid administrative leave.
After the shooting, the witness said, police just left Deshira Selimaj lying on the ground while they taped off the scene.
The woman said she was one of three witnesses who pulled over in their cars.
As she recounted her story, she cried.
“All of us witnesses are going through the same thing,” she said. “I’m trying to forget about it; trying hard to get it out of my mind.”
Henderson police spokesman Keith Paul said police recovered a knife at the scene, and the witness said it was possible that she could have missed the presence of a small knife.
“I didn’t see a weapon,” the witness said. “A butcher knife, we would’ve seen it. If it was a pocket knife, it would have been hard to see.”
Paul declined to comment on the witnesses accounts, noting details would emerge during the coroner’s inquest, which is yet to be scheduled.
“We’re not going to get into details of the investigation,” he said. “We believe the officer acted appropriately in protecting himself and those around him.”
Paul said he knew of no other investigation under way, outside of the police department’s internal one. Purser said as part of Selimaj’s defense she has hired an investigator.
Zyber Selimaj, 65, faces charges of speeding, running a stop sign and obstruction of an officer. Purser said the obstruction charge stems from Selimaj trying to run to his children after his wife was shot.
The children, who were initially taken to Child Haven, are now back home with him, she said.
Selimaj has been released from the Henderson Detention Center, where he was held last week on $70,000 bail. Purser said the bail was reduced to $4,000.
He is scheduled to appear in Henderson Municipal Court for trial at 10 a.m. March 31 before Judge Mark Stevens.
Purser said Selimaj plans to fight the charges, because the city attorney’s office is seeking jail time.
Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or firstname.lastname@example.org.