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April 24, 2014

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erik scott coroner’s inquest:

Witnesses give conflicting accounts of Costco police shooting

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Sam Morris

Eileen Nelson testifies during a coroner’s inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Saturday, September 25, 2010. Nelson was describing how after Scott was shot, “he was stumbling back, with his hands up, empty,” she said, with her elbows bent and her palms up, demonstrating what she saw.

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 4

Costco customer Karen Passarelli-Krause wipes away a tear while testifying during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Saturday, September 25, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 3

Costco shopper Barbara Fee demonstrates how she saw Erik Scott raise his right arm toward a Metro Police officer as she testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Friday, September 24, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 2

Metro Police Officer William Mosher testifies about shooting Erik Scott during a coroner's inquest at the Regional Justice Center Thursday, September 23, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Erik Scott Coroner's Inquest - Day 1

Bill Scott, Erik Scott's father, listens to testimony during a coroner's inquest at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, September 22, 2010. Launch slideshow »

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  • Unidentified caller from within Costco talking to dispatchers
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  • Shai Lierley on the phone with dispatchers
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  • Metro Police radio traffic during the July 10 officer-involved shooting that left Erik Scott dead
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The fourth day of testimony in the coroner’s inquest into the police shooting death of Erik Scott was filled with Costco customers who saw the shooting, but not all of their testimonies matched.

Police responded to the store after a Costco employee called 911 to report a man acting erratically, possibly on drugs, damaging merchandise and carrying a pistol in his waistband.

Some witness accounts of what transpired outside the store have conflicted with Metro’s version of events and with the versions explained by other witnesses.

Humberto Rodriguez Jr. said that he didn’t think the July 10 shooting was necessary.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” he said. “It seems to me there was plenty of time for the police officers to tase this fellow rather than to shoot and kill him.”

Rodriguez was with his wife, Jo Ann, and his mother-in-law at Costco.

Both husband and wife described Scott as a “man who was frozen in time,” like a deer in the headlights.

Rodriquez said he didn’t understand the shooting because Scott didn’t appear to be threatening. “I saw a man that was not crazy, who was not insane,” he said. And Rodriquez said he didn’t see Scott with a gun.

Rodriguez said he was familiar with police standoffs after one happened at his home involving his brother.

His brother had mental issues, was suicidal and had threatened the family, Rodriquez said. But police were able to use an electric shock to subdue his brother, and he felt they could have done the same with Scott.

However, upon questioning, Rodriquez said his brother was not armed when police came.

Jo Ann Rodriquez’s also testified Saturday, and her story largely matched her husband’s.

Dain Szafranski, another customer who saw the shooting, had a different view of the event.

Szafranski was at Costco with his mother and 2-year-old son when they saw officers outside the store with their guns drawn. He heard one officer command Scott to “get on the ground” three times; the instructions were loud and clear, he said.

Szafranski said Scott was standing with his arms to his side, raised between his waist and his shoulders, and was talking, but Szafranski couldn’t hear what he was saying.

Scott looked combative, like he was mad and was arguing with the officers, he said.

Scott suddenly “snapped,” Szafranski said. He demonstrated how Scott quickly moved his leg back to take a shooting stance while moving his right arm to his waist as if to draw a gun.

“It looked like two people were going to have a gun fight,” he said. But he didn’t see Scott with a gun or see officers shoot because he had turned to run away with his son when he heard gunfire, he said.

Szafranski also has experience with police officers and gunfights. He graduated from the police academy and has been trained in dealing with armed suspects but has been unable to find a job with a local department, he said.

Pahrump resident Eileen Nelson was just about to check out at Costco when she was told to evacuate.

While walking out of the store, she noticed Scott and his girlfriend talking. They seemed calm, walking like everyone else, she said.

While Nelson was waiting outside, she saw officers with their guns drawn, ordering someone to get down on the ground.

She saw Scott raise his right hand toward the officer with something in it, she said. An officer then shot Scott, and the item dropped out of his hand. It was then that she saw it was a gun holster, she said.

After Scott was shot, “he was stumbling back, with his hands up, empty,” she said, with her elbows bent and her palms up, demonstrating what she saw.

Her voice cracked. “His hands were empty” when he was shot by the other officers, she said.

Nelson said she saw the whole scene unfold. She said she watched, after Scott fell to the ground, as he became motionless.

“I could see his left eye, open and glassy,” she said with a small sob. “He took his last breath, and then he didn’t move anymore.”

After the shooting, Nelson stood up and said she saw the whole thing and asked what to do. An officer told her to get in her car and go home, which she did, she testified.

Her husband, Will Nelson, saw part of the what happened but was facing a different direction and didn’t see the whole thing, he said.

Will Nelson said he heard an officer yelling at someone to get down. When he looked over, all he saw was Scott’s hand, which was holding something brown and was extended in front of him, he said.

He said he heard a gunshot and the object, which he recognized as a holster, dropped out of Scott’s hand.

Scott didn’t look like he was handing the holster to the officer — it was more like he was displaying it to them — but he wasn’t holding it as if he was going to shoot it, Nelson said.

Scott didn’t seem to be a threat, but he also didn’t comply with the officer’s orders, Nelson said.

He said he believes it would have been a better situation had the officers confronted Scott in the parking lot rather than near the store entrance, where there were more people around.

Another Costco shopper, Evelyn Eckels, testified that Scott looked angry “in the eyes.”

“He looked very angry, and he looked directly at the police,” she said.

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Evelyn Eckels testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Saturday, September 25, 2010.

She said she noticed Scott was holding a gun. “It looked like it was pointed to the officers,” she said.

She covered her eyes with her hands and shouted, “Oh my God, he’s got a gun,” she said. “I was like a kid trying to hide, I guess.”

She then heard shots fired, she said, then heard a woman yell.

An interested party asked if Scott could have had a confused look instead of an angry one. Several witnesses throughout the proceedings have said Scott wasn’t responsive and appeared confused at various points when he was at the store.

“No,” she said. “I feel as if he was just mad about the whole situation.”

Costco customer John Cooper said he didn’t see police when he first left the store but later saw an officer with a firearm in his hands.

Then he noticed Scott facing the officer.

“He was not in a defensive manner,” Cooper said. “He was just standing there, almost in a relaxed position initially.”

He said that he felt guilty he didn’t attempt to render aid to Scott after he had been shot. An Army colonel with 27 years of experience, he said he felt someone should have checked on the man before paramedics arrived.

Steve Albright was also shopping at Costco with his wife and two children when they were told to evacuate.

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Costco shopper Steve Albright describes the way Erik Scott reached towards he waistband during a coroner's inquest into the shooting of Scott at the Regional Justice Center Saturday, September 25, 2010.

He said he saw Scott’s right hand reach toward his back, right pocket as he was confronted by officers outside the store.

“Muscle memory tells me what that means,” he said, referencing the motion Scott made. Albright has a concealed weapon permit and said he has drawn a gun thousands of times.

Scott reached toward his pocket deliberately, he said. “It was definitely an intentional, smooth move,” he said.

There was something in Scott’s hands, but he didn’t wait to see what it was, Albright said. He said he turned to get his family and get away before hearing shots fired.

“When police have their guns pointed at you, you don’t reach and pull out anything whatsoever,” he said.

Wendy Wolkenstein, another Costco customer, testified that she saw a police officer and Scott outside the store when she was evacuated.

She saw the officer with his gun out, she said, and he was yelling at Scott, whose back was facing her, to get down on the ground.

“I didn’t see Mr. Scott getting to the ground or attempting to get to the ground, unfortunately,” she said.

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Costco customer Wendy Wolkenstein testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Saturday, September 25, 2010.

She herded her children behind a pillar when she saw Scott’s elbow move back toward his waist or pocket, she said.

She then heard gunshots. “I have never heard a gunshot before, and I actually thought it was a Taser,” she said.

Reviewing her statement to police from the witness stand, Wolkenstein said she told the detective she hoped the shooting wasn’t Scott’s fault. She went on to say that she didn’t understand why he didn’t go to the ground.

“I just wish Erik would have gotten to the ground; it’s upsetting,” she said.

Shopper Karen Passarelli-Krause was emotional on the stand and said the event had traumatized her.

“I’ll never forget it,” she said.

While shopping, she was told to evacuate the store. When she got to the front entrance, she saw Scott, who was four or five feet away, and a police officer, who was right next to her.

“I saw Scott’s shirt fly up and the gun come out,” she said.

“To me, it looked like it (the gun) was pointed at me,” she said. “I just kept staring, in disbelief that this was happening.”

A question from an interested party asked if Scott could have had a cell phone, not a gun in his hand.

“I wouldn’t be afraid of a cell phone. I thought it was a gun,” she said.

Another shopper, Dr. Edward Fishman, said he heard a police officer order Scott to “drop it” — not to get on the ground as other witnesses have testified.

Fishman was checking out of the store when he was told to leave his things and evacuate.

When he got outside, he saw a police officer with his gun drawn. He walked around a post, then came back and saw Scott at the entrance.

He heard the officer tell Scott to “drop it,” even though he couldn’t see anything in Scott’s hands, he said. He saw Scott reach toward his side and his shirt came up, then he was shot, Fishman said.

He didn’t see Scott point anything at the officer or take an aggressive stance at the officer, he said. Fishman also said he didn’t hear Scott say anything.

After Scott was shot, Fishman said, he saw his hands above his head before he fell to his knees and then fell face-down on the ground.

Fishman, a physician, said he was concerned that no one went to help Scott or check for a pulse.

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Costco shopper Dr. Edward Fishman testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Saturday, September 25, 2010.

He was so shocked and surprised that he was afraid to approach and offer assistance, he said.

He said he didn’t see anything drop from Scott’s hands or anything on the ground near him.

Fishman said he gave a statement to police the day of the shooting and also provided a statement to a private investigator hired by the Scott family.

Fishman was accompanied by two foreign exchange students, Lisa Holzgruber and

Caroline Lagerholm, whose recorded descriptions of the event were played for the jury Friday.

In their statements, both Holzgruber and Langerholm say they saw a gun in the man’s waistband.

Dolly Rand testified she saw a man point out Scott to a police officer, who told Scott to get on the ground.

She heard a woman yelling hysterically, but she didn’t hear Scott say anything, Rand said.

The officer took a step forward, pointed to the ground and again ordered Scott to the ground, she said.

Scott reached behind his back like he was pulling something out of his waistband, then he brought his hand forward with something black in his hand, she said.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Owens questioned Rand, who is in a wheelchair, about her line of sight, which would have been different from most other witnesses, who were standing at the time of the shooting.

“It was going up straight towards the police officer,” Rand said.

The officer fired at Scott, then two other officers fired, she said.

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Costco shopper Dolly Rand testifies during a coroner's inquest for Erik Scott at the Regional Justice Center Saturday, September 25, 2010.

Rand said she couldn’t tell what Scott was holding but after the bullets hit Scott, the object fell to the ground. She described what she saw as a square leather object, but she said she wasn’t sure if it was a gun or a cell phone.

Her husband, Robert Connolly, testified that Scott was handing the gun to the officer before he was shot.

Connolly said he saw an officer tap Scott on the shoulder and tell him to get down. He heard a woman tell police that the man had a permit.

Scott reached to his back, pulled out a gun in the holster, and pulled it to the front toward the officer, Connolly said.

But he was holding the handle of the gun and the side of the holster as if he was surrendering the weapon, he said, and didn’t point it at the officer.

Others who testified Saturday included two Costco employees, Andrew Muller and Denis Sulc; as well as a husband and wife who had been shopping at the store. The couple were identified as being connected to sensitive law enforcement agencies and could not be identified in media reports.

Jurors will determine whether the shooting was justifiable, excusable or criminal. Coroner’s juries do not have to be unanimous in reaching their verdict. On Wednesday, 11 jurors were seated, which included four alternates. One juror was dismissed Saturday after becoming ill, which means three alternates remain.

Proceedings, which are expected to last at least a couple days next week, are scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Monday.

Also of note, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Tony Abbatangelo, who is presiding over the inquest, said decorum needs to apply throughout the courthouse or he might have to close the courtroom.

“I don’t want to go down that road,” he said. “There are a lot of actions that could be misinterpreted, or tempers could flare.”

Abbatangelo made his comments outside the presence of the jury.

He was referencing an incident that apparently occurred outside the courtroom during a break. The details of the incident weren’t mentioned, and court officials wouldn’t elaborate when questioned by reporters.

Scott family attorney Ross Goodman declined to meet with members of the media following Saturday’s proceedings.

Family spokeswoman Lisa Mayo-DeRiso said the family was going to spend the day off going through their notes and evaluating the testimony.

The family has been openly critical of the inquest process, calling it flawed and one-sided.

They have also disputed claims that Erik Scott was impaired by prescription drugs while at the store.

A coroner’s inquest is a fact-finding procedure designed to determine the facts surrounding police officer-involved deaths.

Goodman has said the truth of what happened won’t come out unless federal investigators look into the case.

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  1. Witnesses that backed cops came first, others last. Why not other way around?

    Or alternate witnesses: have a witness supporting the cop's version of events, then a witness backing the Scott family's version of events?

    Whole process stinks, it is a choreographed kangaroo court.

    It is funny that the hard drive failed to destroy the time frame when the shooting occurred, (17 minute gap in the Nixon tapes??)

  2. In the end, the cops will get off. This was obviously a confused situation given the conflicting testimony. They were told there was a man with a gun, and it turned out the suspect was in fact armed and, it appears, acting erratically.

    The police are allowed to shoot suspects if they have a reasonable reason to fear their life, or the live of other people in the area, are in danger. And, as opposed to civilians, they have no duty to retreat out of a life threatening situation. In order for them to be convicted of any crime in relation to this case, the prosecutors would have to prove that they did not have reason to think that lives were in danger, and shot anyway. Given what we've seen of the testimony at this inquest, proving that would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, they won't likely pursue the case.

  3. I have watched the Coroner's Inquest every day, missing very little of it. I am used to watching trials, and observing juries. What is going on at the Inquest is nothing unusual.

    A "weight of the evidence" is starting to appear through the testimony of unbiased witnesses.

    From hearing the jury's questions, you can draw the conclusion that they "get it".

    Unfortunately, the reporters and editors for both newspapers and all television outlets in Las Vegas "don't get it". All of their reporting is way off the mark, in terms of not reporting which witnesses have been impeached. The press is not reporting the weight of the evidence which the jurors and viewers have seen. Just today, one of our local newspapers published a photograph of one of the most not-credible witnesses who testified. (From the questions the jury asked him, I could tell they were not buying his testimony). Conversely, last night one local television station aired the inflammatory testimony of a woman the District Attorney effectively impeached.

    My bottom line is that the local "press" is doing a disservice to the public in not reporting, even as editorial rather than news, what is unfolding before the Coroner's Jury in terms of credible evidence.

    As an additional failing of the local press, the identity of the truly culpable parties, other than Mr. Scott and Officer Mosher, has not been reported with adequate weight.

    My bottom line is that the Coroner's Jury will probably find the shooting justified by a split vote, and that both Costco and Metro will become enmeshed in a protracted personal injury/civil rights case. Costco and Metro will become adversaries in that litigation, and as between the two of them Costco will be the ultimate loser.

  4. @ lvmp1066

    I can tell you from 30+ years of doing depositions and trials that the lawyers from the DA's office are doing a great job in impeaching each witness whose testimony might be useful to the Scott family in a civil suit.

    The reason for the impeachment is very simple. The DA and his deputies act as "county counsel" and are likely to be involved in defending Metro and its "owners" in a wrongful death/civil rights lawsuit brought by Scott's family. It is important to "Metro's owners" that any witness favorable to the Scott family be impeached by their own words at the same time that they give their favorable testimony.

    The Scott family's lawyer is trying to do the same thing through his written questions to witnesses favorable to Metro.

    My personal conclusion is that this Coroner's Inquest process should be abolished completely rather than expanded into a full adversary hearing, under the rules of evidence, in which Metro officers would not want to participate.

    My personal conclusion is that the Sheriff can fire any deputy he thinks has violated department policies, etc. and that is enough in terms of vindicating Metro. A full adversary hearing aka trial will inevitably occur when there is a question about whether an officer involved shooting is justified. That one trial is good enough. The public does not need to bear the costs of both a "show trial" and a "real trial".