November 10, 2010
The Erik Scott Case: Update 8--Eyewitnesses, Video and Coincidence
THE SCENE: A classroom much like any classroom supported by public dollars. The occasional fading poster breaks up the routine of bland, institutional paint. The ubiquitous round clock hangs on the wall above the lectern, making odd and disjointed ticking and whirring noises, its hands occasionally speeding up or slowing down. It’s either too hot or too cold and there is an odd smell that no one can quite identify. But this classroom is different. In the chairs with the worn, torn covers, their arms resting on the chipped particle board tabletops covered in cheap, peeling wood grained vinyl, sit 25 police recruits, young men and women eager to learn all that they can about their jobs before being allowed on the streets.
It’s 1030 in the morning. The topic is the finer points of diagramming traffic accidents, and attention, and wakefulness, are beginning to lag. The instructor drones on, when suddenly, without warning, the door at the back of the room flies open and slams into the wall with a resounding bang. Someone sprints into the room, assaults the instructor who ends up flat on his back, and sprints from the room through the wide open door. The entire incident has taken mere seconds. The recruits are now wide awake, but are frozen and have no idea what to do. The instructor rises, calmly brushes off and straightens his uniform, and directs the class to write a report about the crime they just witnessed.
All too soon, each recruit has the dubious pleasure of reading their report for the entire class. At the end of the reading, it is clear that the assailant was a tall/short, slender/fat, man/woman who was balding/had long hair and who said a variety of things/was silent, as he assaulted the instructor/or didn’t, with his fists/a baseball bat/something big and dark/a rubber chicken. Most recruits did not mention the location, the date, and left out most pertinent facts. Only a few thought to write down the time of the incident despite the large clock hanging a few feet over the action. Only one noticed that the weapon used was in fact a yellow rubber chicken, and only one--not the same one--noticed that the assailant was a man with a beard wearing a long, curly blonde woman’s wig. None recognized him as one of their instructors. Only one correctly put the duration of the incident at ten seconds while the others ranged from half a minute to a minute.
Variations on this scenario are played out across the nation for new police officers because it teaches very important lessons about the nature and reliability of eyewitness testimony. If the instructor in this scenario was particularly capable, he would have pointed out all of the factors that can color eyewitness testimony and would have taught his recruits how to question witnesses to properly evaluate and to clarify, not color or coerce, their testimony.
While investigating any crime, the police must, at the scene, identify any and all potential witnesses and take complete statements from them, carefully comparing them to see which, if any, common elements appear. Even the differences are important because no investigator can know, particularly early in an investigation, which of these differences might be important. Really smart officers will immediately, upon walking into a group of people who might be potential witnesses, say “show of hands: How many of you saw what happened?” while simultaneously raising his own hand. He would do this because he knows that Americans are conditioned by their experiences in the public schools to raise their hands in response to questions, and if caught off guard, will tend to respond honestly without thinking too hard. Those who raise their hands--or partially do before thinking better of it--will be quickly and politely segregated and questioned.
Initial statements are often taken informally, by means of handwritten notes taken by officers, or are written by each eyewitness. Later, depending on the seriousness of the crime, detectives commonly conduct taped or videotaped statements, carefully asking questions designed to bring out details and insights that might have been missed in the initial statements while being careful not to contaminate statements by the power of suggestion. These more complete interviews are commonly done after detectives have had the chance to review the physical evidence which can often clarify events and also bring up questions that need more in depth answers. During this process, detectives also determine--if they have the luxury to choose--which witnesses will be most effective in court.
Done correctly, this process works very well and leads to correct conclusions. Done incompetently or with a pre-determined result in mind, it leads to miscarriages of justice such as allowing the guilty to go free or convicting the innocent.
Some few readers have suggested that because eyewitness “A” testified that Scott pointed a gun at the Officers, the case is, from that point, closed. If only these matters were so easily decided. From what is currently known, the witnesses in the Erik Scott shooting--and there were many more than presented by the Prosecution at the Inquest--are no different than in most cases. They fall into two general groups: Those who believe that Scott, at some point or in some way, touched, reached for, grasped, drew, or pointed a gun at the police who immediately shot him, and those who saw no gun, before, during or after the shots were fired. Even so, there appear to be widely accepted common observations. Virtually all witnesses agree that:
(1) The Police began shooting almost immediately after identifying Scott.
(2) The Police fired multiple shots, including multiple shots into Scott’s back as he was falling face down to the ground or was face down on the ground.
(3) Something was on the ground near Scott’s body, something variously identified as a gun, a cell phone, a zippered gun rug, or a black or otherwise colored object of some kind. Some witnesses saw nothing at all.
(4) The shooting took place in the midst of a large crowd of people leaving the Costco at the request of the Police, a crowd who unknowingly walked into the middle of a circular firing squad.
(5) The Police were yelling a variety of conflicting commands at Scott in the few seconds before they opened fire.
(6) Scott’s hands were more or less continuously in the air in response to the commands from the Police. Some witnesses felt he never lowered them.
(7) Scott appeared very surprised when confronted by the police and particularly when the first shots hit him.
(8) The Police rendered no medical assistance to Scott and handled him roughly when assisting medical personnel.
Let’s return to the classroom where the instructor points out some of the factors that can have a substantial influence on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. His careful questioning reveals that none of the recruits in the back row had a clear (some had no) view of what happened. Even the recruit sitting closest to the door couldn’t write a clear description of the “suspect” who was at two instants, within two feet of him, because “it all happened too fast.” None of the recruits saw the entire incident from the moment the suspect entered the room until he left. Several were only fully aware of the suspect as he turned his back to his “victim” and sprinted from the room. The most alert recruit, the one who correctly identified the “weapon,” just happened to be in the front row, closest to the assault, and seated to one side of the podium, giving him a clear view of the action. The rubber chicken stuck in his memory because he had always enjoyed slapstick comedy and the sight of it was funny to him. Even so, his account was only about 60% accurate. All other accounts were worse.
As with everything about the Erik Scott case, little is known of the facts and of what the Police actually did at every step of the investigation. Exactly how they interviewed the eyewitnesses, when and where, and how they chose those who would testify at the Inquest remains unclear or unknown. It’s obvious that they chose only those witnesses they believed would support their version of the story, but even so, ran into several witnesses who did not hold to the party line. The Prosecutors found themselves in the bizarre and embarrassing situation of savaging their own friendly, supportive witnesses in a hearing without an adversary.
It’s an old legal truism that no attorney should ever ask a question of a witness without knowing the answer they’ll provide. Many unwise attorneys who have done this have found themselves badly embarrassed and have even lost cases. That the Prosecution found itself surprised in a hearing without an adversary, a hearing it totally controlled, a hearing with a predetermined outcome, does not speak of competence, attention to detail, adherence to procedure and careful preparation.
There are questions that any competent officer should ask in evaluating eyewitness testimony. Among them are: Did the Police determine exactly where each witness was standing? Did they have a clear and unobstructed view of the confrontation? Through the entire confrontation, or only portions? Which portions? How much of the shooting did they see? What first called their attention to the shooting? How far away were they standing? Did they stand there watching or dive for cover? Did they see it all, or is their account a mixture of what they heard, saw and filled in with guesswork and supposition? Did they have any relation to anyone involved? Does their occupation have any bearing on their observations? Would it make them more or less likely to be accurate? Do they have any physical impairments that would be relevant? Do they have any axes to grind against anyone or any entity involved?
Suggestion is very powerful, and the human brain will attempt to fill in the missing puzzle pieces of any situation using logic--or sometimes, emotion--filtered through the experiences and biases of that individual personality. Did the Metro Police ask some or any of these questions, or did they simply choose witnesses who were willing to present the most favorable testimony? At the upcoming civil trial, a version of the shooting very different from that favored by the Police will surely be presented. It will likely be revealed that those witnesses will have been asked these, and more, questions--and those who testified at the Inquest were not--and their testimony will be, therefore, more reliable to and more believable by a jury than those who have not been so carefully, professionally interviewed.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Eyewitness testimony is tricky and prone to inaccuracy. It is foolish to take it at face value. It must be professionally and dispassionately evaluated and presented in court. As with so much else in this case, what is currently known does not give the informed observer confidence in the ethics and professionalism of the Police or the Prosecutors.
THE STRANGE AND EXCELLENT JOURNEYS OF A SEAGATE HARD DRIVE:
It is time to revisit the issue of video records. While substantially more is now known than was available in earlier updates, the picture remains incomplete and often contradictory. This, and the reasons therefor, will be no surprise to regular reader of this series.
Shortly after the shooting, the Police issued statements suggesting that any video would likely be unusable, that there was video but it was corrupted, that the video was malfunctioning, and eventually that there would be no video at all, either indoors or outdoors, of the Costco and the events of Saturday, July 10, 2010. Within a short time and before the Inquest, the Police settled on the story that the video recording system at Costco had been malfunctioning beginning on Wednesday, July 7, and no attempt was made to repair it until after the shooting, therefore, no video was recorded. Yet, the police did, at some point, take the system into custody and sent it off to experts for examination, which examination, unsurprisingly, confirmed their official story. It would not be until the Inquest that the strange tale of the video was, in some very odd ways, clarified, or perhaps more accurately, augmented.
Shai Lierley, the Costco security officer, testified that he called Las Vegas Valley Locking Systems (the company that installed and maintained the Costco system) on Wednesday, July 7 about the store video system, which he said was completely non-functional. However, Jason Swords (phonetic spelling) of LVVLS testified that Lierley called on Thursday the 8th. His testimony suggested that he did nothing to repair the system as he was essentially a call taker rather than an on-site technician, and that Costco would have to wait until a technician was available on Monday, July 12.
This is odd testimony in that Swords had nothing material to add, particularly considering the fact that the Inquest was not an adversarial proceeding. Nothing Lierley said would be in any way called into question or refuted. Unless the Prosecution considered Lierley’s testimony and/or credibility to be so potentially weak as to require buttressing by Swords, his appearance at the Inquest makes little sense. By his own admission, Swords merely took a call from Lierley, told him he could do nothing, and took a message for someone who could. This testimony appears to be nothing more than at attempt to support Lierley’s version of events, and in that it failed even to establish a consistent date of the call.
In addition, the prosecution did not pursue a very important matter: Was there a back up server, either on site at Costco or a remote server elsewhere? Considering the nature of the Inquest and the Prosecution’s goals, this failing is not surprising, but it is a crucial matter. Security companies, particularly in large, competitive markets, often offer remote back up hard drives for security video, so even if a clever robber or thief stole or destroyed the primary recorder of a business, their images would not be lost and would be recorded and preserved on a remote and/or back up hard drive. In particularly competitive, security minded markets like Las Vegas, such services are not extra cost options but essential features of security packages, yet the Police and Prosecutors have made no mention of this. If there were such backup capabilities, the entire case changes. No longer is this about the data stored on a single hard drive, or hand full of hard drives, as the Police would have us believe. In fact, it is entirely possible that it never was about a single hard drive.
Another interesting and contradictory bit of Inquest testimony was provided by Metro employee Brian Wyche who apparently works in IT for Metro. Wyche testified that on Satuday, July 10 at about 1715 (approximately four hours and fifteen minutes after the shooting) he rebooted the Costco video surveillance system at Costco and found that it worked properly, however, he also said that it contained no footage of the shooting. It will likely surprise no one to discover that the Prosecution did not press him for further details, nor did he volunteer any.
The police did testify at the Inquest that they did not, after the shooting, take the video system into custody and place it into evidence. This is yet another omission--like so many commissions--that defy rational explanation. Call them all coincidences.
Coincidences happen. They happen every day. But there is a point at which coincidences cease being happenstance, random, inexplicable acts or omissions of unknowable, unreasoned fate. That point is reached when coincidences, taken as a whole, form a pattern. Put aside, for the moment, the simple fact that two or more coincidences occurring in close proximity relating to a single incident are essentially prima facie evidence that coincidence is not at work. Consider that when the consequences of all coincidences benefit only one side and harm only the other, it would be foolish, even dangerous, to consider such acts and omissions coincidence. In this case, every act, omission, every coincidence, has redounded to the benefit of the Police and is either supportive of their version of the shooting, or has prevented a complete, competent investigation, an investigation that they apparently did not do themselves.
The Police did not take the video evidence into custody, not immediately, not until days after the shooting and only in the most roundabout way, despite repeatedly having their hands on it--figuratively and literally--during the intervening period. In fact, they testified that they did not take it into evidence because it was “proprietary hardware.”
Any competent investigator hearing such testimony would, at that point, be picking his jaw up off the floor. Not only do the police have the legal authority to take any evidence relating to a crime into immediate custody, they have, in virtually every state, an affirmative obligation under state law to do so. In any professional police agency, making such a basic, elementary, boneheaded mistake would immediately and legitimately call into question any detective's fitness to continue to serve as a detective. I have actually taken entire sections of the walls of homes into evidence, chainsawing them out, shut down businesses for hours and days, seized motor vehicles, homes, and virtually anything one can name, and have done so lawfully and rationally. Of course, when such seizures involved the property of innocent citizens, I have taken pains to carefully explain why it was necessary, to apologize for the necessity, and have even taken steps above and beyond the call of duty to assist them and to make them whole. Whether a particular piece of evidence is proprietary or generic has no bearing on whether the police may or should seize it, none whatsoever.
An officer involved shooting is one of the most important cases any investigator can handle, and when the person shot dies, must be handled as a homicide until it can be unquestionably proved otherwise. Failing to immediately search out, locate and take into custody every potential bit of video and audio evidence where it might exist is akin to leaving a murder weapon in plain sight on the ground and driving away. It is yet another example, as was outlined in Update 7 in the theory of the case, of the police willfully, knowingly making themselves look incompetent because the alternative was much, much worse.
Why wouldn’t the Police want to take such evidence into custody? The most obvious possibility is that whatever happens to the evidence cannot be blamed on them if it is not in their custody. In addition, any break in the Police chain of evidence may very well destroy the value of any given item as evidence and render it inadmissible in court. A harmless, rational explanation for this behavior may someday be forthcoming, but it is difficult to imagine what it could be.
Another interesting side note is that Det. Calas, reportedly during his initial turn on the Inquest witness stand, showed video from outside Costco and made a point of showing a segment of it suddenly blacking out, apparently to further buttress the Police story. He also testified that the internal clocks of the Costco system were some 18 minutes off. It’s impossible to know, at the moment, the significance of this, but it is certainly something to keep in mind in the future, particularly should a mysterious, 18 minute gap appear at some point.
Additional testimony indicated that on Monday, July 12, the LVVLS technician (name unknown) who was reportedly unavailable on the 7th or 8th, met with Lierley at Costco and the two of them apparently drove the system to LVVLS. Testimony is unclear on the exact times, and the exact number of hard drives involved, but ranges from one to three at various times. Remember that all Inquest testimony was aimed only at proving the Police version of events to the historically very low standard of proof necessary under Clark County rules. Therefore, a great many details remain murky.
Swords' testimony becomes coincidental in that he testified that on Monday he examined the drive (as in single drive) and described it as having been damaged as though it had been dropped from a height of four feet. He described the arm holding the read/write heads as being badly damaged. This is in direct contradiction to the testimony of Metro IT tech Wyche who testified that he rebooted the system at about 1715 on the 10th and found it to be functional. If Swords is correct, Wyche cannot be unless someone damaged the system after Wyche rebooted it. There is certainly more than sufficient time for this to have happened. This is also interesting in that Swords was the person who testified that he was essentially a call taker and could not assist Lierley when he called for help on the 7th or 8th. Why then was he examining the internal mechanisms of the hard drive on the 12th? Where was the missing LVVLS technician who was unavailable on the 7th or 8th? Let’s not bother asking why such examination was taking place outside of police custody, and apparently, without their knowledge.
From there, the date/time trail becomes even more cloudy, but it is known that the equipment--however many units and hard drives--made its way to Metro. Whether it was ever entered into evidence or merely tossed on a shelf or desktop and for how long and under what conditions is unknown, but from there it was sent to the Secret Service in Los Angeles where it was, at some point in time and for an unknown amount of time, examined by a Secret Service Agent/technician (this too is unclear). From the Secret Service, the hard drive (or drives) was sent to Seagate, the manufacturer, in Santa Clara, California where it was examined by their technicians. At some point, the equipment was apparently returned to the Secret Service in Los Angeles, and possibly, to Metro, but the exact disposition of the original video equipment remains unknown.
What is known through Inquest testimony is Seagate, through their technician David Teigen (phonetic spelling), some time in August, recovered a substantial amount of data. Teigen did not confirm Swords' assertion of a badly damaged read/write arm. Tiegen made three copies of that data and reportedly sent one copy to Metro and two to the Secret Service. Testimony suggested that from a one terabyte drive, Tiegen recovered some 600 gigabytes of data, and this was apparently the data contained on the copies sent to Metro and the Secret Service. This is where Tiegen’s testimony becomes very interesting.
Tiegen testified that there was a “glitch,” but unsurprisingly, was not pressed on this and did not volunteer information. He testified that he was tasked merely with recovering data and that he did not look at any of the video/data. He testified that there may have been video, but it was not his job to determine that, but merely to recover files. Keep in mind that a standard DVD has a capacity of 4.7 gigabytes. If the figure of 600 GB is accurate, this is the equivalent of approximately 128 DVDs of video data, some 256 hours.
Secret Service Agent/technician Jody Okawaki testified that she recovered “583 folders,” but like Tiegen, testified that she was tasked only with recovering data and had no idea whatsoever what they were, or what they might contain. It is not known if this represents the same data discovered by Tiegen or additional data, nor is the exact number of involved hard drives known. Okawaki apparently did not confirm Sword's assertion of a badly damaged read/write arm. Remember that we are speaking only of hard drives--video storage media--on site at Costco. We do not know if there were backup hard drives on site at Costco, or remote backup at LVVLS or a third party location, though all of this remains a distinct, unexplored possibility.
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS/UNEXPLAINED COINCIDENCES
Since the Police did not immediately take all video evidence into custody (and this remains an omission of inexpressibly gross incompetence), its value as evidence is greatly diminished, perhaps utterly destroyed, which may have been the point. Understanding this, a great many questions remain:
(1) If the Police believed, as they testified, that there was no video evidence on the Costco equipment, why bother to send it anywhere for examination, particularly since it was not in their possession?
(2) Las Vegas has no shortage of highly competent computer/video technicians. Since the Police were not treating the equipment as evidence in an officer involved shooting and were at best handling it casually, why would they bother to take possession of it and send it outside Las Vegas to search for data that they believed did not exist?
(3) Why would the Police send it to the Secret Service, who are not known for their expertise in forensic video examination, rather than say, the FBI, who are? In fact, why would they involve a federal agency at all?
(4) Why would a Secret Service Agent/technician tasked with recovering video that could potentially cause law enforcement officers to be charged with the unlawful shooting of a citizen studiously refuse to look at such video to determine if it was relevant? There are no statutes, no privacy laws that require such rectitude. How could anyone searching for such video evidence be said to be doing their job to the most minimal standard of competence if they didn’t bother to confirm that what they found was video rather than, for example, word processing data or audio files? This, like so much else in this case, makes no sense at all. No sense, that is, unless she was operating under orders not to look, not to know.
(5) Did the Secret Service attempt to maintain any chain of evidence? Did they receive the equipment from Metro in such a way that indicated that it was to be treated as evidence?
(6) Why, if the Secret Service found some 583 folders, did they send the drive (drives?) to the manufacturer?
(7) Why did Seagate technician Tiegen also fail to confirm the nature of the data he recovered? While the private sector may operate under standards of privacy that are commonly and primarily self-imposed, it beggars belief that any competent technician, particularly one tasked by the Secret Service to recover video data, would not take the minimum steps necessary to confirm that he had, in fact, recovered video data. Such confirmation would take no more than opening and playing, for a few seconds, potentially relevant video files. Of course, Tiegen too may have been under orders, potentially orders specifying that he, like Okawaki, must know nothing about what he did. With this in mind, one might be forgiven for believing that this coincidence in a long, pattern of coincidences would allow the unchallenged modification or destruction of any potentially damaging data.
(8) What, exactly, is the nature of the recovered data, data recovered where Lierley and the Police said there was no data to be recovered? Where are the copies of that data and under what conditions are they being held and by whom? How were the copies recorded and transmitted? Such an a large amount of data would have required an external, portable hard drive of sufficient capacity or a great many DVDs and/or CDs depending on the type of data.
(9) Were the files recovered by the Secret Service the same data recovered by Seagate, or additional data? Was the data recovered from one hard drive? Three? More?
(10) Were there video and/or audio recordings made by police vehicles/officers on the scene? A great many patrol cars are video equipped and officers with that equipment wear wireless microphones to simultaneously record audio. Were Officers Mosher, Stark and Mendiola wearing wireless microphones or carrying personal recorders? If so, what became of that evidence? There were many police vehicles on the scene. It would be an incredible coincidence if they recorded nothing. Even an officer’s microphone recording nothing more than the gunshots from a distance would be important evidence, and many officers carry portable, personal recorders.
(11) Was video recorded by the Police helicopter on the scene? If so, what became of that evidence?
(12) Was video recorded by any local media organization? If so, what became of that evidence? The complete lack of media video evidence in this case is another amazing coincidence.
(13) Was video or were still photographs recorded by any citizen on a camera or cell phone? If so, what became of that evidence? The apparent complete lack of citizen video in this case is yet another amazing coincidence.
THE THEORY OF THE CASE, CONTINUED...
Sometime after Scott’s body was tossed into the ambulance and was long gone from the scene, officers realized that there might be video. Perhaps one glanced up and noticed a video camera, perhaps they just suspected it, but certainly the thought occurred to them. A hurried visit to a monitor for playback revealed...what? That Scott was not the raging lunatic inside the store that they had been mistakenly led to believe? That Scott was, when confronted, just another Costco customer calmly going about his business, walking out of the store? That they engaged in a circular firing squad in the middle of a crowd of innocent citizens whose dives for cover and shocked expressions and cries were clearly visible and audible? That Scott did not, in fact, have a gun in his hand when he was shot? Of course they knew this, for no gun was on the ground after Scott was gone; it was still in its holster, on his body in the ambulance. But seeing the video confirmation of this fact must have been the mother of the mother of all sinking feelings. They knew that if the video ever saw the light of day, they were toast.
Of course, if the video confirmed the Police version of events, or even if it could be spun to support their version, there would have been no difficulty and that video would have been played at the Inquest. It would have immediately been taken into custody and entered into evidence, but this was, horrifically, not the case. Something had to be done and done quickly.
Then began a comedy of errors, characterized by heated arguments and recriminations between officers, detectives, supervisors, command staff, perhaps even the Sheriff, over how to bury the video without leaving too many fingerprints on the evidence and the attempt. Lierley’s cooperation was essential, but that wasn’t difficult to obtain through promises, threats, whatever was necessary. The rest could be handled over the ensuing weeks and months by the mere assertion of seemingly legitimate Police authority, authority accompanied by Metro’s well known and often practiced reputation for punishing its perceived enemies in the community. Personal connections between Metro officers and the Secret Service obtained their assistance, perhaps their unwitting assistance, and the meandering, nonsensical trail of a traveling hard drive began, giving the Police plausible deniability. “Hey sure, we made a mistake, but we tried to find the evidence!”
Among the most important elements of the entire charade was avoiding entering the video equipment into Police evidence. True, this would, yet again, make the police appear to be incredibly incompetent, but in the unlikely event that something was found on the hard drive(s)--after concerted attempts to be sure that nothing could be--the Police would argue that since it was never really in their care and custody, anything could have happened to it. It was tainted and should not be allowed in court.
On October 28, the Scott family announced a $25,000 reward payable for a legitimate copy of the video evidence of the shooting. The family reasonably believes that such video exists. It’s possible that even in Las Vegas, $25,000 may be enough to shake it loose. Visit the link in the first paragraph of this update for additional information and for contact information. The Scott family has also purchased four billboards around Las Vegas advertising the reward. None of this will be pleasing to the Police.
THE CIVIL SUIT:
On October 28, the Goodman Law Group of Las Vegas, on behalf of the Scott family, filed a lawsuit against Officers Mosher, Stark and Mendiola, The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Sheriff Doug Gillespie, Costco and Shai Lierly for violating Erik Scott’s civil rights. This language is significant in that it may be calculated to encourage federal involvement in the case. Federal involvement may be the only mechanism capable of forcing actual change in the Metro Police.
The suit alleges that Lierly “falsely reported that Erik did pose a threat to the safety of other persons.” It also alleges that there have been “numerous prior incidents in which Metro officers engaged in unreasonable seizures and use of excessive, including lethal, force,” and that Sheriff Gillespie has behaved with “deliberate indifference” by failing to properly train, supervise and discipline officers who behaved unprofessionally.
And so the hunt for facts and the truth begins. The degree to which Metro cooperates in this endeavor will tend to indicate the degree of their adherence, or lack thereof, to professional standards, ethics, and the law.
Early in the week of November 1, a female friend of the Scott family was pulled over by the Police twice within a three hour period, allegedly for failing to signal within 100’ of a lane change. This woman is a supporter of the Scott cause and was present at the Inquest. She did, however, unquestionably commit a sin unforgivable to Metro Police: She displayed an Erik Scott remembrance ribbon on the back of her vehicle.
It is known that the second stop was made by Henderson officers (the officers making the first stop are not currently known). By the second stop, she was so frightened that she, upon stopping, immediately stuck both of her arms out her window, expecting to be shot at any moment. She was shaking with fear. The Officer toyed with her, asking why she was afraid. She told him that it was because of Scott’s shooting and he acknowledged that he saw the ribbon on the back of her car. He taunted her a bit longer and let her go without a citation (she was not cited for either “violation”). She has since, fearing for her life, removed the ribbon from her vehicle.
Competent, professional police officers will recognize this as a classic chickenshit traffic situation. Professionals never issue citations, and rarely stop citizens, for failing to signal unless their driving behavior nearly caused an accident or figured in an accident. This is so because it is virtually impossible, even for officers who become, through long experience, very good at judging distance and velocity relating to moving vehicles, to be sure that a citizen began signaling at less than 100’ before making a lane change or turning. In many vehicles, turn signals do not activate instantly when the lever is pushed, and a vehicle could easily cover 30-50 feet before a signal begins. And in reality, particularly in heavy, metropolitan traffic, people must change lanes--and do so every day with complete safety--without the possibility of signaling and traveling 100’ before making the change. Officers know that it is almost impossible to drive at all without inadvertently committing at least some violation of the multitude of traffic laws. Most police officers aren’t aware of every potential local and state traffic law. The point is that professionals do not harass the public when they could very well be doing their best to obey the law.
In this case it is clear that the officers involved, apparently at least two separate officers, were acting as uniformed thugs rather than professional, honorable guardians of the public. What kind of man delights in so frightening an innocent woman as to make her fear for her life, fearing death at the hands of the Police who are sworn to protect her? Such a man is not a man at all. He is certainly not an honorable police officer. And what kind of police supervisor allows this kind of behavior to go unpunished and uncorrected? Such a supervisor is, at best, enabling thuggish, perhaps even criminal behavior, and at worst, complicit in that behavior. And what kind of Sheriff, knowing of this kind of malfeasance on the part of his officers--and he does know of it--allows it to continue, allows it to go unpunished? Why does he not immediately and personally call--even visit--that woman and assure her that she has nothing to fear from her police force? Why does he not call a press conference and announce to the public that he has taken steps to ensure that his own officers are and always will be the protectors of the public rather than indistinguishable from those who prey upon them?
But the most damning question for the Metro Police is this: Why should such discipline, correction and assurance be necessary in the first place? How could things have ever been allowed to deteriorate so badly?
Sadly, the Police, through their campaign of thuggish, criminal harassment, are achieving at least some of their goals; people are afraid of them and many are removing Erik Scott remembrance ribbons from their vehicles recognizing that displaying them puts them at risk of chickenshit, even illegal citations or worse. It is a great tragedy, and an inexpressible outrage, that the citizens of Las Vegas may reasonably believe that their lives are at risk at the hands of their police. One wonders why the Clark County Commissioners, the elected officials who hold the ultimate power over the Metro Police--the power of the purse--apparently hear, see and do nothing about such gross abuses of power.
Wise police officers and agencies understand that having the good will and support of their citizens is crucial. They understand that even in dealing with criminals, it is foolish to harass and mistreat people. Such behavior on the part of the police builds up bad will, hatred, even the desire to engage in violence against the police. Such bad will is cumulative. It’s like a bank account that eventually grows so large that the vault can no longer contain it. When it bursts, and it will, lives--citizen and police--can be lost. Sadly, it would not be unreasonable to believe that this has been the case in Las Vegas for a very long time, that the Erik Scott case was only the most recent bursting, and that the vault continues to fill. It will burst again and again, unless affirmative and absolute steps are taken to once again restore the Metro Police to a position of trust and respect within their own community.
It has been said that there is no such thing as an ex-Marine. To a lesser degree, the same might be said of police officers. It is very unsettling to have to write as I have in these updates. As I’ve stated before, I strive to provide information and analysis that will allow people to understand the police and to better judge what may have happened in this case, and what may be happening in Las Vegas. In this effort, I am continually hampered by a lack of complete information, information that is closely held by the Metro Police, and of course, by the Scott family and their attorneys. I encourage any Metro officer or other person having pertinent information to contact me or my co-blogger, Bob Owens. If we have made any mistakes, misrepresented any fact or incident, we are anxious to learn of it and to make appropriate corrections. And, of course, we always appreciate the insights and comments of our readers.
In the communities where I worked as a police officer, virtually anyone hearing of a citizen who feared for their life at the hands of the police would have thought them paranoid, unstable, irrational. They would have thought it possible that the police might have been occasionally unreasonable, perhaps even a bit rude, but capable of threatening the lives of innocent citizens? Certainly not.
Everything I have learned--and much of that has not been reported in these updates--about the Metro Police and their relationship to their community has lead me to the belief that Las Vegas citizens may very well reasonably fear for their safety at the hands of their Police. Certainly not every officer is out of control. The majority likely are not, but when a citizen is pulled over by a Metro--or even a Henderson--officer, he or she cannot know if that officer is among the professional majority or the thuggish minority. Citizens see only a blue--or tan--suit and their impression of all officers, professional or thuggish, will be formed by their treatment by that suit. Professionals know this and act accordingly. It appears that the involved officers--far too many of them--do not.
With this in mind, one of the most tragic ironies of the Erik Scott case is that Scott’s death may be nothing more than a symptom, a periodic outbreak, of a Police disease that has long infected Las Vegas.