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Can One Wrong Death Bring Down Corrupt Las Vegas?

A concealed carry killing raises dangerous questions.

by
Mike McDaniel

Bio

March 28, 2011 - 12:00 am

From that point, the story of the case reads like the most egregious bad cop fiction imaginable. Mishandling of evidence. Illegal searches involving other agencies. Illegal seizure of property unrelated to the case. Disappearing video. Incompetent forensic examinations and testimony. Officers and detectives admitting mistakes that would cause them to be fired anywhere else in the nation. Idiotic statements from high-ranking officers that no citizens were ever endangered — despite a panicky barrage of gunfire in the middle of a crowd surrounded by huge pillars that would serve as perfect random ricochet generators. Thuggish harassment of innocent citizens. Add to that a multitude of other actions and omissions that defy professional police practice, reason, and probability: this is the stuff of the Scott case.

So one-sided and clearly corrupt was the police and coroner testimony at the inquest, so outrageous was the police behavior, that the public outcry was too much for even a system as corrupt as that in Las Vegas, and the Clark County Commission was forced to revamp their rules for coroner’s inquests. My article on that process reveals their efforts, however well intentioned, to be window dressing. Despite the changes, the coroner’s inquest is still little more than a police controlled rubber stamp for Metro. Amazingly, Metro officers, through their union, have announced that they will not cooperate with investigations, will not honor subpoenas, and will not testify, implying that they will simply take the 5th at best if they decide to bother to show up. And they mean this to apply not only to officers who are actually involved in a shooting, but officers who are merely witnesses. It is hard to imagine a more obvious indicator of corruption than police officers refusing to testify about their official, on-duty actions in court — unless it is that Metro management has apparently done nothing about these threats, despite the fact that Nevada law makes refusing to cooperate in investigations an insubordination offense, which can result in firing.

In any other competent, professional American law enforcement agency, no officer would imagine that they could get away with refusing to cooperate with investigations, refusing to honor subpoenas, refusing to testify, or threatening to take the 5th, particularly if they were merely witnesses to a police shooting. They would understand that such actions are so far out of the acceptable mainstream of police thought and practice that they would not only receive no support from fellow officers, but would be absolutely slammed by their superiors. They would expect to have even less understanding and support from the public. That Metro officers would believe the unthinkable proper is a danger sign of immense proportions.

So deeply ingrained is Metro’s corruption and incompetence that they reportedly remain amazed at the uproar the Scott case caused and continues to cause. Scott’s was only the most recent of some 200 police shootings of citizens in about a decade, and in only one case had an officer been found culpable. For Metro, the coroner’s inquest, set up to favor the police and to eliminate any adversarial questioning, was a memory hole, a hole into which all evidence of police misconduct would inevitably disappear. Needless to say, the prosecutor’s office has always been complicit, accepting without question inquest findings and, with a single exception, never pursuing charges. And another thing: in all police shootings, Metro investigates itself, never involving outside agencies, as is common in many other police agencies, without an organizational interest in the outcome.

In shooting Erik Scott, Metro made a mistake beyond imagining. Mosher, Mendiola, and Stark killed the wrong man. Scott was not a petty criminal engaging in a crime, but a West Point graduate who served honorably as an officer of armor. A sales representative for a prominent maker of medical devices, Scott was also licensed by Nevada to carry concealed weapons. His family is a proud military family — people who run toward, not away from the sound of gunfire. His his father is a retired Air Force test pilot and journalist. This case was not allowed to fall down the coroner’s memory hole, and the family has offered a substantial reward for video of the shooting, has actively pursued the case, and has filed a civil suit.

Arriving at the present, new information on one of the officers involved has emerged. Thomas Mendiola, the officer who fired four rounds into Scott’s back, has been arrested, suspended, and charged with giving a handgun to a convicted felon, Robert Justice. The warrant indicates that Mendiola gave the gun to Justice (Mendiola knew him to be a convicted felon legally unable to possess firearms) as payment for work Justice did for Mendiola. It was also recently revealed that Mendiola initially failed to graduate from the Metro basic police academy and had to take the course twice. The reasons for his failure remain unknown.

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