A federal judge will decide by the end of the week whether a wrongful death lawsuit should be dismissed against Clark County and Sheriff Doug Gillespie over their alleged roles in the July 10 police shooting death of Erik Scott outside a Summerlin Costco.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Barker told Senior U.S. District Judge Edward Reed that Clark County has no formal relationship with Las Vegas police and therefore can't be a co-defendant in the high-profile case.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the sheriff said Gillespie should not be a party to the lawsuit in any capacity because the claims lodged by attorney Ross Goodman, who represents Scott's parents, Bill and Linda Scott, did not meet federal guidelines in presenting allegations in a lawsuit.
In essence, attorney Joshua Benson said the allegations Goodman raised in the lawsuit did not meet a requirement that they be "plausible."
Reed indicated that Goodman met the burden. "That sounds plausible to me," he said on several separate occasions as a handful of the 11 allegations listed in the lawsuit were discussed.
Goodman in January voluntarily dismissed Costco and Costco employee Shai Lierly from the federal lawsuit, but that doesn't mean the wholesale giant is out of trouble.
After Wednesday's hearing, Goodman said both Costco and Lierly, who called 911 to report that Erik Scott was acting erratically, would be named later in a state lawsuit. "What they (Costco and Lierly) did isn't covered under the federal laws," said Goodman, adding that there was sufficient time to file the lawsuit before the two-year statute of limitations expires .
The Scotts think Costco, through poor training of its employees, unnecessarily created a hazardous situation that led to their son's death. They also think Las Vegas police and Clark County failed to properly train their employees.
No attempt was made to remove from the lawsuit the Las Vegas police department or police officers William Mosher, Joshua Stark and Thomas Mendiola, who were involved in Scott's killing.
In an unrelated matter, Mendiola recently was indicted on a gun charge.
A coroner's inquest jury last September found police were justified in Scott's killing. At the time, Goodman said the system was "one-sided." Since then, in response to a rash of controversial officer-involved shootings, the county and police have changed the process.
In arguing to have the county removed from the lawsuit, Barker said a 1973 merger between the county and city law enforcement agencies that created the Metropolitan Police Department granted the department autonomy -- and relieved the county of any liability when its officers were subject to lawsuits similar to what the Scott family filed.
Goodman said Clark County is a valid defendant and told the judge that Barker's explanation was not as cut and dried as she made it sound. He said that Clark County employees sit on a fiscal affairs committee that distributes revenue to police, that there is a county-managed police officer review board and that the county oversees the coroner's inquest process.
"They want to hide behind statutes that created Metro," Goodman said, "but there are other laws regarding the county's responsibilities."
But Barker told the judge the fiscal affairs committee addresses only budgetary issues and not the planning and operations of Las Vegas police. She also noted that Gillespie is independently elected and that he alone is the policymaker for Las Vegas police.
Goodman said the law that created Las Vegas police department does not have any language that absolves the county of its responsibility.
A dig from Barker made the hearing personal when she questioned why the city of Las Vegas was not also named as a defendant. Goodman, the son of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and mayoral candidate Carolyn Goodman, said after the hearing that the city was not included because Las Vegas does not control the police department's budget to the same extent as does the county.
Goodman also said he expects Reed will rule in the Scott family's favor. "The judge asked a lot of questions, and I think he will lean our way and then we can start the discovery process."
The Scotts think the police officers used excessive force when they shot their son, a 38-year-old West Point graduate and Army veteran. But Scott also appeared to have personal demons.
Scott, who had a permit to carry at least one concealed weapon, was armed with two handguns at the time of his death. His autopsy reportedly showed near lethal levels of the painkiller morphine and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
Contact Doug McMurdo at email@example.com or 702-224-5512.