Gunned Down in Vegas: What Really Happened to Erik Scott?
An accomplished young man is killed by police outside a Vegas Costco, and bystander accounts starkly contrast with official reports.
September 16, 2010 - 12:00 am
Erik Scott was a West Point graduate, Army veteran, MBA graduate of Duke University, and a medical sales rep for Boston Scientific. He was gunned down by three Las Vegas police officers after they responded to a 911 call by Costco store employees reporting a man with a gun, possibly on narcotics, behaving erratically.
Scott was 38 years old, shopping with his girlfriend for items they needed as they moved in together. Unfortunately, those are the only details of the story on which anyone agrees.
To hear the side of the story presented by Scott’s family, friends, and some eyewitnesses, Erik Scott’s death was the result of ignorance and embellishment on the part of the Costco staff, and a combative, deterministic mindset from responding officers.
Other witnesses and the police claim that Eric Scott was armed and acting irrationally, and that his own actions led to his shooting.
What we know for certain is that Scott was in the camping section of the store taking bottles out of their packaging, attempting to determine how many of the bottles would fit in a cooler he was thinking of purchasing. At some point he bent over and his shirt rode up, exposing the pistol he had concealed at the small of his back.
A Costco employee saw the holstered sidearm and told Scott he was not allowed to have the weapon in the store. Scott replied that he had a permit and the right to carry his weapon. He then went back to shopping. The employee called over a manager, who informed a 20-something security guard, who made a 911 call to police.
We do not know precisely what was said in that important call, because the police have refused to release it. We do, however, know from police radio traffic picked up by a scanner that the guard had told police that Erik Scott was armed with a gun, was acting aggressively and erratically, and that he may have been under the influence of drugs.
It must have been a frightening tale: over a dozen police officers responded, along with a helicopter, ambulance, and competing incident command teams.
As the police began to form a massive perimeter outside, Costco managers began evacuating the entire store without apparently explaining why to anyone. As Scott and his girlfriend exited the store he was identified to police officers, who were waiting with guns drawn outside the front door.
A blog from Erik’s family described what happened next:
Erik turned to find three officers facing him, guns drawn, and all three shouting different commands: “Get on the ground!” “Drop your weapon!” “Keep your hands up!” Erik held his hands up, spoke calmly, told them he DID have a concealed firearm and a legal CCW and was an ex-Army officer. His girlfriend was screaming about Erik being a West Point grad, former Army officer, etc. Erik leaned to his left, hands still up, to expose the pistol, and repeated, “I am disarming; I am disarming.” Witnesses say he started to lower his right hand, palm OUT, perhaps intending to remove holster and gun together — but never got the hand below his shoulder, when one of the cops (believed to be William Mosher, who had committed a fatal shooting in 2006) shot Erik in the chest with a .45-caliber semi-automatic weapon. Erik dropped to his knees, clearly in shock, his face a picture of disbelief. He was shot a second time and collapsed. The rest is ugly. The three officers unloaded again, firing a total of seven hollow-point rounds. At least four, possibly five, hit Erik in the back, after he was on the ground and dying.
Two experts hired by Scott’s family examined his body. They claim that of the seven .45 ACP hollowpoint bullets fired into Scott’s body, one was fired through his armpit, suggesting his arm was raised at the time. Four remaining shots were fired into his back. There were no exit wounds, making it all but impossible for police to claim that investigators misread through-and-through wounds.
Metro Police Captain Patrick Neville claimed a different series of events, based in part on the 911 call that police have not released:
I could clearly hear the officers giving commands to the individual to get him on the ground, hear people yelling and screaming in the background. You could hear the shots being fired. When you listen to that, it definitely sends a chill down your spine.
There are no commands or communications between Erik Scott and police captured on a nine-minute audiotape during which the shooting occurred. Officers not directly in front of the store are heard over the radio establishing a perimeter and trying to block off access to the store’s parking lot. The first indication Scott and the police have made contact is when a officer breaks in to call “shots fired” after Scott is on the ground, already dying or dead.
In another interview, Captain Neville claimed Scott did not listen to police commands:
He does not comply with that order. He reaches for the weapon, pulls the weapon out … uh, at which time the weapon was out of the waistband, the officers — three officers — discharged their weapons.
Others on the scene did not see it that way. Robert Garcia directly conflicts the reports of police:
I was close enough to see this guy’s face, and to see his hands, and to see his body go down.
Walking just ten feet in front of Erik Scott, Garcia exited the Costco to see officers with guns drawn. He heard an officer yell: “Put it down! Get down!”
Then he claims four shots were fired, and he instantly turned towards the victim:
After hearing the shots I see the guy going down. I looked at — I saw his hands. His hands had no gun in it. I looked on the ground because — just, I just did that. I looked down and I didn’t see a gun. I saw what I thought were maybe sunglasses. And a pen.
This matches up with several other eyewitness claims that officers William Mosher, Joshua Stark, and Thomas Mendiola fired nearly immediately after shouting conflicting commands at Scott, giving him little or no time to respond. Four other witnesses within 20 feet of the store’s entrance all agree that Scott never brandished a weapon or made a move that could be interpreted as brandishing a weapon.
A coroner’s inquest is to be held next week, but the outcome seems foreordained. In the past 34 years, only one Metro officer has ever been found to have acted improperly out of at least 190 inquests, and that officer wasn’t charged with a crime.
For the record, the Costco did not have signs posted prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons. Scott did not violate any laws in carrying his weapon in the store. It is quite possible that Erik Scott was gunned down without having committed so much as a misdemeanor crime, and that the officers who shot him will be merely the latest exonerated in a long line from an apparently unaccountable police force.