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Judge drops Clark County from wrongful death suit over Costco shooting

Image

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Metro crime scene investigators, officers and detectives mill about the entrance of the Costco store in Summerlin after the shooting July 10, 2010.

Updated Thursday, June 9, 2011 | 7:36 p.m.

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A federal judge today dropped Clark County as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Costco shooting victim Erik Scott, but kept Metro Police as a defendant.

U.S. District Judge Edward Reed Jr. also retained Sheriff Doug Gillespie as a defendant in his "individual capacity" but dropped him from the lawsuit in his "official capacity" because his role in the latter duplicates the claims the family is making against Metro.

Reed also handed Scott's parents, William and Linda Scott, another victory by upholding their right to sue the defendants for alleged negligent hiring, training and supervision of police officers.

In dismissing Clark County from the lawsuit, Reed agreed with its argument that the county is not legally liable for the conduct of Metro or its employees.

At a press conference on Thursday, the family's attorney, Ross Goodman, said the ruling "basically left the entire complaint intact against Metro, Sheriff Gillespie individually and the officers."

"Basically, the whole point of naming Clark County was to hold them also accountable because we believe that, unlike other legal precedent that we raised for the first time, a novel argument suggests that the county has more responsibility, because of their involvement with the fiscal affairs committee, in the police review committee and the coroner's inquest, and that they have separate policies that exist and they should also be held accountable,” he said.

Scott, a 38-year-old medical device salesman, was shot and killed by police outside the Costco store in Summerlin last July. Police reportedly responded to a 911 call of a man with a gun destroying merchandise inside the store.

A coroner's inquest sided with police that the shooting by officers was justified, but the family disputed those findings and criticized the inquest process.

Scott's brother, Kevin Scott, initially was a plaintiff in the lawsuit but Goodman told the judge they would voluntarily dismiss him from the case. The judge agreed, noting that Kevin Scott didn't have legal standing to be a party in the lawsuit.

The family also had dropped Costco and one of its security officers, Shai Lierly, as defendants but reserved the right to sue them in state court.

"We wanted to focus on those claims in a federal court first and then, based on the investigation during discovery, will lead us to the appropriate time to refile a case involving state claims against Costco," Goodman said. "Costco is jointly to blame and will be held accountable at the right time. In state court, we will sue Costco and Shai Lierly and whoever else we deem to be responsible in the discovery."

Sun reporter Nikki Villoria contributed to this report.

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  1. This was a murder, not a justified shooting. And yet Costco claims not to have any recordings of the shameful behavior of its employees, in the phony 911 call, or the supposedly bizarre actions of the murdered Erik Scott, in the store. What an interesting case this will be, in the discovery phase, of the lawsuit. How many seconds did it take to shoot Scott down after he exited the store? How many times was he shot in the back after he went down? How many of the three gunslingers are still cops? Or unindicted on other crimes? Blame the victim, isn't that the Metro way?

  2. The claims against Metro and the Sheriff are called "Monell claims" in Federal civil rights act litigation.

    The essence of a Monell claim is that the agency which employed the police officer(s) and the person in control of the police agency (e.g. sheriff or police chief) had a de-facto or actual policy directing or tolerating officers violating a victim's Federal civil rights.

    The LAPD got hit with Monell claims frequently, especially under the leadership of their late Chief Darryl Gates. Some plaintiffs have succeeded in proving Monell claims against the LAPD. However, I can't recall a successful Monell claim ever being made against the Clark County Sheriff.

    During the Coroner's Inquest, I didn't hear any testimony which looked like there was a viable Monell claim in this case. Then again, through discovery, the plaintiffs' lawyers might find evidence of such a policy to violate suspects' Federal civil rights.

    As a result of this judge's ruling, the case will go forward, and we'll all get to hear about what sort of evidence the plaintiffs find on the Monell issues.

    Personally, from the "evidence" I heard during the Coroner's Inquest, I'd be spending my time building a case against Costco rather than spending time on Monell claims.

  3. Cynical...
    Thanks for sharing.
    That helps us "lay folk" understand the nature of this beast a little better.
    This case is huge for Metro's flagging credibility with the public it serves.

  4. The man was stoned out of his mind. He was carrying two concealed weapons, and he was being load and threatening. I know parents don't want to think the worse about their children but time has come to face facts if he would not have been stoned on prescript drugs and carrying two hand guns the man would be alive today. End of discussion, all the family is trying to do is make the police look bad for their own sons mistakes.

    Scott family wake up and realize that your son was a rich POS that did not follow the law.

  5. Law doggie...

    "No one's cared about this case since the facts came out during the inquest."

    I believe you are mistaken.

    When this trial starts, and when a verdict is rendered, you will see...

  6. It is good to challenge the police and these folks and help them to wake up. They don't have to kill so many folks. Scott was not innocent, it just seems apparent that he could have been disarmed. It is easier to kill people than help them.

  7. "...but carrying two guns and acting obnoxious in a public place is an accident waiting to happen."

    "...but time has come to face facts if he would not have been stoned on prescript drugs and carrying two hand guns the man would be alive today. End of discussion..."

    dipstick, el_diablo -- neither of you were there, nor claimed to have even been at the inquest. Yet you've both posted justifying this man had to be executed on site by our sworn representatives (cops) who were there. And both of you seem to be more in favor of the lynch mob approach to this Discussion than questioning why exactly Scott had to die in our name. I welcome your clarification and future attempts to be relevant to this Discussion, particularly in light of Scott, like every one of us, had the protected liberty to keep and bear arms.

    "Indifference to personal liberty is but the precursor of the State's hostility to it." -- United States v. Penn, 647 F.2d 876 (9th Circuit, 1980), Judge Kennedy dissenting

  8. "The right to bear arms is not absolute. Not by a long shot."

    johnmanrules -- where did I say that? Try reading the post before going on your next rant.

    "...the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table." District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S., at __ (slip op., at 64) (2008)

  9. If lack of exercising due caution, under difficult circumstances where public safety was a paramount concern, is a major issue, what about a family that fails to act to prevent a mentally ill family member from using drugs inappropriately, and possessing firearms? An intervention and forced treatment might have prevented this.
    Going to a crowded shopping area high and in an unstable mental condition, armed with two guns, is clearly an invitation for trouble. The public safety was definitely at risk, and apparently Scott did not cooperate when ordered to do so. You would think a West Point graduate would understand the need to be attendant to a police command.
    Perhaps if there had been a staff of psychologists and psychiatrists, and skilled crisis negotiators on hand, all dressed in armor protection, a more finessed approach could have been attempted. Unfortunately, in the real world, when trouble abruptly occurs, the police must deal with their available resources and err on the side of protecting the public and themselves, in this case, from a gun wielding, unstable person.
    If this situation had occurred at the Martin Luther King Costco, and the perpetrator was a North Las Vegas African American, high on cocaine, the matter probably would have been settled much sooner, even with expressed relief that peace had been restored with minimal loss of life.
    A poster boy face with an impressive education, a proud and apparently affluent family may allow for a very different and more sympathetic reaction. I think innocent bystanders are more of concern than protecting one individual at all costs, further risking life and limb.
    The family appears to be turning their anger outward, expecting us all to pay a high price for their loss. This is not about justice.