Family of Henderson ice cream truck driver killed by police files lawsuit


Relatives of Deshira Selimaj filed a lawsuit Friday in an effort to get information about the Henderson woman's death before a coroner's inquest takes place.

Selimaj, a 42-year-old mother of three, was shot and killed Feb. 12 by a Henderson police officer. An inquest into her death is scheduled to begin Thursday at the Regional Justice Center.

"No information or evidence has been provided by the city of Henderson or the county of Clark that would allow the Selimaj family, as interested parties, to meaningfully exercise its right to submit questions at the coroner's inquest," according to the complaint.

The lawsuit was filed by Selimaj's husband, Zyber, and their three sons against the city of Henderson, police Chief Richard Perkins, Clark County and District Attorney David Roger.

It claims the defendants have refused to give them information about the shooting, including an autopsy report and recordings of interviews with the two Selimaj children who witnessed the incident, and seeks a court order requiring the defendants to turn over the information at least 24 hours before the inquest begins.

Roger said he would not comment on the lawsuit until he had a chance to review it. Perkins could not be reached.

Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he has discussed the case with Selimaj family attorney James Jimmerson and has offered his organization's support.

"We agree with the arguments raised in his filing, and we think he is raising an important issue," Peck said.

Peck said authorities have "absolutely no justification for hiding this information from the family of the deceased and their representatives."

"It is another dysfunctional part of a system that is badly broken," he said.

Peck considers the coroner's inquest system one-sided and unfair. He said it was not designed to find the truth.

Inquests are held in Clark County whenever someone is killed by a police officer. A jury is asked to determine whether the killing was justifiable, excusable or criminal.

Attorneys from Roger's office conduct the hearings and are required to act as a "neutral presenter of facts."

But Mario Lovato, another lawyer representing the Selimaj family, questioned the neutrality of deputy district attorneys. He said prosecutors typically support police because they work with one another regularly.

Unlike the adversarial system used for trials, witnesses who testify at inquests are not cross-examined.

Criticism of the inquest process led to reforms last year, when the ordinance pertaining to coroner's inquests was amended to allow "interested parties" to submit questions in writing to the presiding officer, who in turn decides whether to ask them.

The Selimaj inquest is scheduled to last two days.

Deshira Selimaj was killed after she came to the aid of her husband, who had been stopped by police at an intersection near Coronado High School. Police had accused him of speeding and failing to obey a stop sign.

Both Deshira and Zyber Selimaj, who are Albanian immigrants, were driving ice cream trucks. Deshira Selimaj arrived at the scene with the couple's 5-year-old and 11-year-old sons. Their 7-year-old son was not present.

At a news conference Feb. 21, Perkins said Deshira Selimaj had threatened her children, herself and officers with a knife. He said officers tried to subdue her with a stun gun but the attempt failed.

"Mrs. Selimaj attacked one of the officers," Perkins said. "And at that point, officer Luke Morrison defended himself by firing at her one time."

The chief called Morrison, 23, a "real-life hero," but the shooting continues to draw controversy.

According to the Selimaj lawsuit, "independent witnesses have reported that Deshira was on her knees or sitting when she was shot."

Perkins has said evidence will show that the woman was on her feet when she was shot.

The lawsuit also claims the bullet that killed Deshira Selimaj "first traveled through her raised left forearm before striking her center mass."

"After she was shot, the police placed handcuffs on Deshira, propped her up so that she was in a sitting position and informed bystanders that she would be OK," the lawsuit alleges. "The police then told many of the bystanders to leave the area."

Zyber Selimaj was arrested at the scene on an obstruction charge.

Police then interviewed the two children, "even though the police were aware that Zyber had invoked his right to silence," according to the lawsuit.

"Zyber was not informed of the interviews," the document alleges. "No representative for the children was present during these interviews."

According to the complaint, Zyber Selimaj has provided a list of dozens of witnesses to the city of Henderson and the Clark County district attorney's office. Included in the list are the names of 10 witnesses, in addition to members of the Selimaj family, who were at the scene of the shooting.

Lovato said at least three of those independent witnesses have been subpoenaed to appear at the inquest. The lawyer said nine saw the shooting, and "eight out of the nine said they saw no knife."

"They've all essentially said that the shooting was unjustified, that there was not a good reason to shoot her," Lovato said.

The lawsuit says Henderson and Clark County officials have stated they will withhold "all documents and information until the coroner's inquest has been completed," although they have no legal basis for doing so.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

 

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