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September 1, 2014

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Prosecutors drop charges against Selimaj

Concern for children of slain ice cream truck driver cited; widower still may pursue suit

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HEATHER CORY / Home News

Zyber Selimaj reacts to the coroner’s inquest ruling that a Henderson Police officer was justified in shooting and killing his wife, Deshira. Misdemeanor charges against him, including obstructing an officer, have been dropped.

All it took was one quiet court filing, a few papers slipped to a clerk Thursday afternoon, and the charges against Zyber Selimaj were dropped.

The motion for dismissal is only a few pages long, but it may signal the Selimaj family’s move out of the courts and out of public consciousness.

Unless, of course, the widower pursues a lawsuit against Henderson Police and Luke Morrison, the officer who shot and killed Selimaj’s wife, Deshira, in February.

Selimaj hasn’t made up his mind. But charges for the actions that ultimately set the shooting into motion, and the obstruction charge that came afterward, are gone.

Assistant Henderson City Attorney Robert Zentz, in a court document, suggested the decision was made with Selimaj’s three young children in mind. Penalizing the father with his pending charges, Zentz wrote in the motion, “would have little rehabilitative value and in fact would impose undue stress and hardship upon the innocent children of the defendant.”

Selimaj, an ice cream truck driver, was pulled over Feb. 12 for speeding and failing to obey a stop sign. A distraught Selimaj, according to officers who testified at a coroner’s inquest, refused to sign the tickets and then called his wife to the scene, at Sunridge Heights and Pecos Ridge parkways. Deshira Selimaj arrived in her own ice cream truck with two of the family’s three children and allegedly threatened officers with a knife, prompting two to fire Tasers at the 42-year-old woman, and one — Morrison — to shoot her in the stomach.

While Deshira Selimaj was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, Zyber Selimaj was taken to jail and booked on both traffic charges plus a third for obstructing an officer, because, police alleged, he became combative after his wife was shot.

While the misdemeanor charges were making their way through Henderson Municipal Court, the police and the Selimaj family were gearing up for a coroner’s inquest into Deshira’s death. On April 11, after two days of testimony, with accounts from witnesses who disputed the police version of events, as well as those from officers who said the woman put their lives in danger, a jury unanimously ruled the shooting justified.

Henderson prosecutors can decide to dismiss charges independent of police. The Henderson city attorney’s office is closed on Fridays, and Zentz was not available for comment. Neither were police.

Attorneys representing Selimaj in the municipal case initially filed an extensive request for documents, internal police communications and physical evidence from the day of the shooting, in an effort to defend Selimaj’s actions that afternoon.

Jim Jimmerson, the family’s lead attorney on the case, said the dropped charges indicate “police recognized that they were in for a real war in trying to prosecute these phony charges.

“Also, somebody within the city of Henderson woke up and realized that with the loss that Mr. Selimaj sustained, it was absolutely against common sense to try and prosecute these claims,” Jimmerson added.

District Attorney David Roger said he could not think of a time his office had dropped charges because of concern for a defendant’s children, though he also could not rule out the possibility it has happened. Each case is different and negotiated individually, said Roger, who would not comment on the Selimaj case.

If the charges hadn’t been dropped, Selimaj would have faced at least 30 days in jail, a penalty stemming from an earlier arrest. In December 2007, two months before the shooting, Zyber Selimaj pleaded no contest to assault charges for allegedly punching a juvenile ice cream truck customer. The judge granted Selimaj a suspended 30-day sentence, providing the father did not get arrested within the following year.

So the February arrest could have landed Selimaj in jail for 30 days, plus any time he would have to serve for the traffic and obstruction charges. This would have meant that his three children, the eldest of whom was 11 at the time of the shooting, would have been without their sole parent for as long as Selimaj was behind bars.

Selimaj and Jimmerson will now have to decide whether they still want to pursue his federal lawsuit, the attorney said.

If Selimaj drops the lawsuit, the dismissal stands to be the final court action stemming from the shooting.

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