Access to hearing, evidence in Costco shooting denied


Two motions to see evidence before Wednesday's coroner's inquest into the police shooting death of Erik Scott were turned down on Thursday.

Scott, 39, was killed July 10 outside a Costco store in Summerlin.

The motions, served last week by Ross Goodman, the attorney representing Scott's family, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, asked for the family or Goodman to sit in on the pre-inquest hearing. The pre-inquest hearing is where the presiding officer in the inquest meets with the coroner and a district attorney to go over evidence and witness lists.

An attorney for the courts, Joe Tommasino, wrote to Goodman and ACLU of Nevada staff attorney Maggie McLetchie that the hearing officer, Justice of the Peace Tony Abbatangelo, does not have to let them sit in on the hearing under the Clark County Code.

The issue touches on a gray area with the coroner's inquest process. Although it takes place in a courtroom in front of a judge, jury and prosecutors, it is not a legal proceeding. The rules of a courtroom, such as filing motions and having cross-examination, don't apply, and the jury's verdict -- justified, excusable or criminal -- is merely advisory.

Inquests are a Clark County ordinance set up as a "fact-finding" process whenever someone is killed by police.

The attorney for the courts wrote that the motions were "unusual" because there's no court clerk to accept them. Goodman and McLetchie had the motions served instead on the coroner, Abbatangelo and the district attorney's office.

Goodman on Thursday criticized the letter from the court attorney because Goodman didn't consider it a proper response. "I'm still waiting for a response from the coroner's office or the presiding officer," he said. "The staff attorney for Justice Court has no role or jurisdiction under the code."

Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Laurent said on Tuesday that the pre-inquest hearing took place last week and there were no plans for another one. He said his office would not release evidence in what he called an "on-going investigation" before the inquest. "We're not going to provide anything to either of those organizations," Laurent said.

The ACLU of Nevada also filed a public records request with the coroner's office to release the evidence before the inquest. In Tommasino's letter, he said the coroner's office does not have "legal custody" of the evidence, as the state public records law requires.

These issues were also brought up two years ago, when a lawyer representing the family of Deshira Selimaj, the ice cream truck driver shot and killed by a Henderson police officer, filed a federal court case seeking the release of the information before the inquest.

The federal judge in Reno wrote in an order the code does not grant the family of the deceased "any right other than to present questions in writing to the presiding officer."

The judge did express concern, however, that neither the Clark County Commission nor the Legislature had established discovery rights for interested parties in inquests. Discovery is the legal term for the sharing of information between the parties involved in a court case.

Goodman on Thursday expressed frustration over the coroner's inquest process. "I hope what I'm doing here is going to be used as evidence to show how unjust and unfair this process is," Goodman said. "The victim has no right to the evidence. The family has no right to see the autopsy report."

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

 

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