Questions still linger after inquest ruling


Two days of testimony, more than two dozen witnesses, and still there are unanswered questions about the Henderson police shooting of 42-year-old Deshira Selimaj, critics said.

Was Selimaj sitting, crouching or standing when she was shot? Did she have a knife? And did the 23-year-old police officer fully disclose who he talked to about the incident?

"I'm not proposing to know the answers, but that proceeding didn't provide the answers," said Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. "It was a sham."

A coroner's jury unanimously found the officer, Luke Morrison, justified in shooting and killing Selimaj on Feb. 12. But it didn't quell criticism of the coroner's inquest process or speculation about the incident that prompted it.

The ice cream truck driver had come to the aid of her husband, who had been pulled over by police for traffic violations. Morrison said he shot Selimaj once as she raised a knife in the direction of another officer who had unsuccessfully attempted to subdue her with a stun gun.

Selimaj family attorney Jim Jimmerson said Saturday there was ample evidence that Selimaj was not standing up and lunging at officers, as several Henderson police officers testified.

The gunshot wounded the inside of the 5-foot-2-inch woman's left forearm, passed through the rib cage and exited her back, near the hip.

Couple that with the fact that Morrison, who Jimmerson said is "not a tall man," was 10 feet away, as the officer testified, and "that trajectory would confirm that she was on the ground or very close to the ground."

But the coroner who performed her autopsy said he couldn't determine where the woman was when she was shot.

There also was contradictory testimony by Morrison about whom he had talked to about the shooting.

Through a question submitted by the Selimaj family, Morrison originally was asked whether he had spoken to anybody besides police and his family about the incident. He said he had not.

But later, one of the assistant district attorneys asked Morrison whether or not he had spoken to him and the other assistant district attorney about it.

"Yes, I did," Morrison said.

The Selimaj family also submitted questions asking Morrison whether he had sent text messages to other people notifying those people that he was the officer involved in the shooting.

However, hearing officer Rodney Burr refused to ask Morrison the questions.

Jimmerson claimed Saturday that Morrison had contacted people other than those he mentioned on the stand, and that Morrison had done so in the form of text messages. Jimmerson said he wasn't "at liberty to say" how he knew about the messages and to whom those messages were sent.

Coroner's inquests are held in Clark County whenever someone is killed by a police officer. Representatives of the district attorney's office conduct the nonadversarial hearings and are required to act as a "neutral presenter of facts."

A representative of the family is not allowed to cross-examine witnesses, however, and is allowed only to submit questions in writing to the hearing master, who decides whether to ask them.

Peck and Jimmerson found the assistant district attorneys anything but "neutral."

"Anyone who watched that proceeding saw that there was a constant barrage of obviously biased, leading questions being asked of all the witnesses," Peck said.

Jimmerson said "the prosecutor, sometimes more than the witness, ... was adjusting the answers to the questions." For example, assistant district attorney Christopher Lalli asked Morrison, "What do you think would have happened if you did not fire your gun?"

"Officer (Anthony) Pecorella would have gotten stabbed, possibly killed," Morrison said.

Jimmerson called such questioning "speculative" and said it could be thrown out in a court of law.

The process also left a bad taste in the mouth of Maria Saltonstall, who witnessed the shooting and told jurors Friday that she didn't see Selimaj wield a knife.

"I really don't have that much faith in that system," she said Saturday. "I really don't."

Henderson police Chief Richard Perkins praised the process, however, and said it was far better than the previous system, in which a district attorney heard the evidence and made the decision in private.

"It's important for us to always remember that this was tragic," Perkins said. "An officer never, ever wants to have to do this in his career."

Review-Journal writer Carri Geer Thevenot contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at 702-383-0440 or lmower@reviewjournal.com.

 

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