Can One Wrong Death Bring Down Corrupt Las Vegas?

You don’t want to commit a crime in Las Vegas -- at least not on TV. On the tube, you’ll be relentlessly pursued by a group of young, beautiful, highly educated and competent crime scene investigators who work in gleaming glass and steel labs surrounded by state of the art equipment that would make MIT green with envy. So ethical and competent are they -- and the police force they serve -- that if a molecule of evidence exists in the known universe, they’ll find it and brilliantly use it against a suspect to talk them into a tearful confession.

In the real world of Las Vegas, life is less attractive. The Erik Scott shooting of July 10, 2010, is like an episode of The Twilight Zone, with multiple, inexplicable plot twists. In the real world of Las Vegas, citizens share one striking fear with contemporary Egyptians: They fear for their lives at the hands of their police force. They may have good reason to do so.

For those who have not been following the Scott case, a visit to the Confederate Yankee archive where all of my articles on the case are stored (here) will be worth your time. The behavior of the police and all related agencies and governmental entities reads like a textbook outlining how not to conduct criminal justice business. Journalists often employ hyperbole, calling the petty and mundane “shocking” or “unbelievable” to sell their product. The facts and probabilities you’ll find in the archives on this case truly are shocking and unbelievable. They sell themselves.

On July 10, 2010, Erik Scott and his girlfriend, Samantha Sterner, were shopping at the Summerlin Costco in Las Vegas. Store employees noticed Scott’s concealed handgun when his shirt rode upward as he stooped to inspect merchandise. Alarmed by this, and by what they thought was some unusual behavior, they told him that concealed weapons weren’t allowed in the store, despite the fact that no signs were posted to notify the public. Scott told them that he was licensed and several employees spoke with him. None actually asked him to leave.

Shai Lierley, store security officer, called 911, and the chain of events leading to Scott’s death began. Lierley and the dispatcher to whom he spoke made serial mistakes, escalating the situation in the minds of responding officers far beyond any reasonable response. What should have been handled by a single officer merely approaching and speaking with Scott turned into a massive police response that included a helicopter. Despite having more than sufficient time to employ reasonable, smart tactics -- tactics that would be employed by any professional, competent law enforcement agency -- the Metropolitan Police behaved as rank neophytes incapable of using common sense or proper tactics.

As the officers rushed to the Costco and milled aimlessly about upon arriving, Lierley was following Scott and Sterner, relaying his observations to the dispatcher who was apparently not relaying timely information to the officers. Rather than identifying and isolating Scott, the police ordered the store evacuated, and Scott and Sterner, like everyone else, calmly walked toward the front doors with the crowd.

Scott walked past several officers posted at the front door and was so unremarkable that they ignored him -- ignored him that is, until Lierley hastily pointed him out to Officer William Mosher, 38, who had then been on the force for approximately five years and one month. Despite the fact that Scott and Sterner were essentially in the middle of a crowd of people, Mosher drew his weapon and confronted Scott. Immediately, Officers Thomas Mendiola (23, then with about 1 year and four months on the force) and Joshua Stark (28, then with about one year and 11 months on the force) also drew their weapons and yelled contradictory commands at Scott. According to witnesses, he was very surprised.

Scott had only a few seconds to live. From the moment the officers began screaming their contradictory commands until Mosher fired two rounds (one striking Scott in the chest and one in the thigh), only approximately two seconds elapsed. Despite Metro claims that Scott drew his gun and pointed it at them (still in its holster!), it is highly likely that Scott had no time to do anything, and that the only item in his hand was his BlackBerry, which was found by his body. Caught by surprise -- by their own admission, having no idea who had fired -- Mendiola fired four rounds into Scott’s back and Stark fired one as bystanders within arm’s reach screamed and dove for cover.