Three Las Vegas police officers who shot Erik Scott outside a Summerlin Costco store in July reacted appropriately to the threat he posed, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said Wednesday in his first public comment on one of the most controversial officer-involved shootings in recent years.
A coroner's inquest jury on Tuesday, after six days of testimony, ruled the shooting justifiable. Officers shot the 38-year-old medical device salesman seven times after he pulled a handgun and pointed it at them.
"While the jury rendered a ruling of justified, and while I believe our officers acted appropriately, there are no winners here," Gillespie said.
Gillespie expressed sympathy to Scott's family and friends, who have spent thousands of dollars on billboards asking the department to release any video of the incident and slamming the inquest process as biased in favor of police.
"Although I don't pretend to know what they're going through, the grief of the Scott family is understandable," Gillespie said, adding that "while a family is used to seeing their loved ones in a positive light, when officers encounter them they are not usually at their best."
Prosecutors during the inquest delved into Scott's past, including testimony about morphine and prescription drugs in his system. A staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada criticized the release of the medical information, but Gillespie said it was relevant and showed Scott's state of mind before and during the incident.
"I do believe that needed to be addressed," he said.
The inquest process has long been maligned, but the death of Scott, a West Point graduate killed at a busy store in an upscale neighborhood, has brought new attention to the system. The Clark County Commission is expected to discuss forming a committee to review potential reforms.
Gillespie on Wednesday said he has met with "stakeholders" to discuss changes. He said he hears the calls for an overhaul but cautioned that "our system in Clark County is much more open and transparent than most."
The attorney representing the family said after the inquest that he will file a lawsuit against the department, the county, the sheriff and Costco, whom Scott's father, Bill Scott, described as having "killed Erik." Store employees called police because Scott was acting erratically and had a gun in the store.
Costco has repeatedly refused to return calls seeking comment, but on Wednesday the big-box chain based in Issaquah, Wash., released a statement saying its employees were motivated by concern for the safety of customers and co-workers.
The company's statement asked that "fair-minded people draw their own conclusions about what happened and why it happened" after watching the inquest. It also said the company is aware that Scott's family and friends have discussed protests and warned that it intends to block any on company property.
Gillespie used the news conference to highlight significant changes in the way the department handles internal investigations of officer-involved shootings.
Homicide detectives formerly handled both sides of the investigation: the administrative side, which determines whether the shooting violated department policy, and the criminal side, which determines whether the shooting was legal.
In July the department established a critical incidents review team, a relatively autonomous unit of four senior detectives and a lieutenant who look into the administrative side of shootings and other serious incidents. The team can recommend changes in policy and training.
On Saturday, the department will activate a force investigative team with six senior homicide detectives and a sergeant who will handle the criminal investigation into officer-involved shootings. Deputy Chief Jim Owens said the team will focus on officer-involved shootings in general, and on in-custody deaths. The team is expected to produce more consistent and thorough investigations.
"We just want to make sure we do it the same way each time, the best way we can," Owens said.
The moves have been in the works for more than a year. Gillespie said the ideas were adopted after looking at what other departments have done to improve their internal investigations.
"Professional organizations want to improve, want to be the best, must be able to honestly and critically review their practices," he said. "The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police department is a professional organization."
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440.