A coroner’s jury heard from several witnesses Thursday who said an ice cream truck driver was wielding a knife before she was shot and killed by a Henderson police officer, and those witnesses included two of the woman’s young sons.
"She unequivocally had a knife," witness Melanie Nelson testified. "I had no idea there would be a controversy about that."
During the first day of an inquest into the death of 42-year-old Deshira Selimaj, the jury also heard recordings of police interviews with the woman’s 11-year-old son, Alban, and 5-year-old son, Arber. The boys were present when their mother was killed Feb. 12 near Coronado High School.
Arber never used the word "knife" during his interview with a police detective, which took place shortly after the incident, but he said his mother went into her truck and "got something so she could kill herself."
A transcript has not been made public, but the boy repeatedly used a term that sounded like "SeaCut," which is a brand name used by Seattle Cutlery. The boys’ father, Zyber, who listened to the recordings for the first time Thursday, told the Review-Journal he heard Arber use the Albanian word for knife: thikë.
Deshira and Zyber Selimaj emigrated from Albania.
During his police interview, Alban said his mother brought him and his brother to the scene, the intersection of Sunridge Heights and Pecos Ridge parkways, after she had a phone conversation with her husband and learned an officer had stopped him there. The officer had issued Zyber Selimaj two traffic tickets.
Alban, now 12, began to cry as he described his mother pulling out a knife at the scene and threatening to kill herself. The boy said his mother grabbed his hand, but she was pointing the knife at her chest.
He said she then grabbed Arber, but an officer soon whisked both boys away to their father.
Alban said he heard his mother say, "Leave my husband and myself and my kids alone." He said he heard police tell his mother more than once to put the knife down.
Zyber Selimaj, 65, testified Thursday and insisted his wife had no knife in her possession. He later listened as his sons’ statements were played for the jury.
"My opinion is same as before," he said during a brief interview outside the courtroom. "I’m not changing it."
Zyber Selimaj said he had asked Alban about the incident, and the boy told him his mother did not have a knife. The father said he could not explain why his oldest son gave a different story to the police detective who interviewed him shortly after the shooting.
Selimaj family attorneys have gathered the names of several witnesses who said they saw no knife.
Nelson said she was driving by the scene and saw the police. She stopped her vehicle when she saw a woman with two young boys.
"I saw a woman screaming, stomping," the witness said. "She was holding a knife."
Nelson said the woman was waving the knife around as the children stood nearby. She said the children did not appear frightened.
The witness said she heard the woman say, "I’m so tired. I’m so tired. I’m so (expletive) tired." The woman then sat down.
"To me it was a gesture of complete surrender," Nelson said.
The witness said she did not see "any specific threat" and believed the incident had ended when an officer took the children away from the area. Relieved, Nelson drove off. As she did so, she heard a single gunshot.
Nelson said she never heard anyone command the woman to drop her knife, and she does not understand why no one intervened before the shooting.
"I felt as though I could run in myself," she said.
Nelson said she was devastated when she learned the next morning that the woman had been killed.
"It is my personal opinion that there were ample opportunities to intervene in a nonlethal way," she said.
The inquest, which continues this morning at the Regional Justice Center, began with the testimony of Patrick Gilmore, the Henderson police officer who stopped Zyber Selimaj’s ice cream truck on the afternoon of the shooting.
Gilmore said he stopped Zyber Selimaj for speeding and running a stop sign. The officer said Zyber Selimaj was crying and apologizing but refused to sign the ticket.
Zyber Selimaj began crying harder when Gilmore told him he would have to go to jail if he did not sign the ticket, the officer said.
"He was saying that he has nothing to live for. ‘Take me to jail. I want to die,’ " Gilmore testified.
The officer said the suicidal threats prompted him to call for backup. At one point, Zyber Selimaj’s cell phone rang, and he began speaking to his wife.
Gilmore said he recognized the wife’s name from a traffic stop he had made last year. He said he spoke to her on the phone and explained who he was.
"She said, ‘Why do you do this? He’s a good man. He works hard,’ " Gilmore testified.
The officer said she then began yelling, "We have nothing to live for. We might as well die." She continued yelling, Gilmore said, and he handed the phone back to her husband.
When Zyber Selimaj saw the backup unit arrive, he agreed to sign the ticket, Gilmore said.
Officers at the scene later determined that, because of Zyber Selimaj’s suicidal threats, they could not release him. Instead, they called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital.
When Deshira Selimaj arrived at the scene in another ice cream truck, Gilmore said, he heard officers yelling, "Drop the knife."
Gilmore said he looked over and saw what appeared to be a kitchen knife in the woman’s hand and heard her yell, "I will kill you. I will kill myself." He said he had to stop Zyber Selimaj from walking past him to get to her.
Soon he heard the sound of a stun gun and the sound of a gunshot.
Zyber Selimaj testified Thursday with the aid of an Albanian interpreter. "I speak English," he explained, "but I don’t speak 100 percent."
He said he and his wife spoke only English with their three sons, who do not speak Albanian. "Most of the time, I don’t understand them," he said.
Zyber Selimaj testified that he initially refused to sign Gilmore’s ticket on Feb. 12, because another officer had given him a ticket about two hours earlier. He said the first ticket carried a $67 fine, and the second carried a $650 fine.
"I sell ice cream, and I don’t make so much money," he told the jury.
Zyber Selimaj acknowledged that he began to cry when Gilmore stopped him.
He initially denied that he told the officer he wanted to die but later said, "I was very sad, and I don’t know what I told him."
Zyber Selimaj said he saw his wife arrive with the two boys and later saw her on her knees with her hands raised. He also heard her tell police to leave her husband alone before he heard a gunshot ring out.
"I didn’t see the police," he said. "I heard the shot, and I saw my wife falling to the ground."
Henderson police officer Jeffrey Wiener arrived at the scene after Gilmore requested backup.
Wiener said he was standing by Deshira Selimaj when another officer fired his stun gun. Wiener said he noticed that one of the gun’s two probes had missed the woman, and he knew it would have no effect on her.
He said other officers, thinking the stun gun would incapacitate her, began moving in. At that point, Wiener said, she came at the two officers who were closest to her.
Wiener said he thought she was going to stab one of the officers, and he prepared to take a shot at the woman with his firearm, but he caught sight of a blue uniform and backed off to avoid shooting a fellow officer. Instead, 23-year-old officer Luke Morrison fired the shot that killed Deshira Selimaj.
Morrison’s name appears on the witness list, but he did not testify Thursday.
When the inquest concludes, the jury will be asked to determine whether the fatal shooting was justifiable, excusable or criminal. The verdicts of coroner’s juries are advisory.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-380-8135.ON THE WEB View the slideshow