On Sept. 28, a Clark County coroner’s inquest jury predictably found three Las Vegas police officers did nothing criminal when they shot and killed West Point graduate Erik Scott as he exited a suburban Costco store shortly after high noon on Saturday, July 10.
Medical testimony established the 38-year-old Scott was stewed to the gills on prescription painkillers when he entered Costco that day.
The story’s well-known by now. Scott came to the attention of store management when he was spotted stripping the wrappers off cases of reusable water bottles and experimenting to see if they’d fit in a backpack. When store Assistant Manager Vince Lopez intervened, he noticed Scott was wearing a handgun in his waistband. He told Scott the store had a no-firearms policy.
Scott had a concealed carry permit for his .45 — though apparently not for the .380 Ruger in his pocket. Mr. Lopez testified Scott “told me that it’s a (expletive)-up policy, and he continued to say he was a Green Beret, he could carry a gun wherever he went, and he wasn’t going to put up with that.”
(Although he was honorably discharged, authorities found Scott had no special forces training. Nor is there any “Green Beret exception” under Nevada law.)
Costco employees called police. The first officer on the scene, William Mosher, met the assistant manager outside the store, and instructed him to evacuate the building. As 50 people filed out of the store, officer Mosher pointed his handgun at Scott’s chest and shouted at him to get on the ground. Witnesses report that, after failing to react for several seconds, Scott lifted his T-shirt with his left hand and reached toward his holstered firearm with his right. They disagreed about whether Scott appeared to be attempting to draw and fire, or whether he may have been attempting to remove the holstered weapon and hand it over — which would have been unwise, to say the least.
Scott’s Kimber .45 was later found on the ground, still in its holster. Scott ended up dead, shot seven times, five in the back, by the three Metro officers on the scene.
The jury was asked to determine whether the police officers acted “with criminal intent,” and found they did not. That’s a sensible verdict, given the question asked.
Erik Scott did a lot of things wrong that day. But did officer Mosher’s instruction to stage an evacuation unnecessarily escalate the situation into one where the necessity of making a split-second, shoot-don’t shoot decision became more likely?
Sheriff Doug Gillespie tells me his department’s Use of Force Review Board will examine that question.
In the long run, I found the most interesting testimony in the Scott inquest came from another witness, Christopher Villareale, who testified he watched the entire confrontation after being one of the last to leave the store.
Because Erik Scott did not comply with orders, officer Mosher “did the right thing in shooting him,” Mr. Villareale said. He proceeded to explain how things are supposed to go when one has a concealed carry permit and a police officer arrives on the scene.
Mr. Villareale, who himself has a concealed weapons permit, reported his own confrontation with police about a year before. He said he dialed 9-1-1 on his cell phone in that earlier incident, and that before police arrived he placed both his cell phone and his pistol on the ground in plain sight. When police arrived, he lay face down on the ground and let himself be handcuffed.
After police investigated, they set him free and gave him his back his handgun, unloaded, he said, quite cheerfully. Mr. Villareale clearly implied every sensible permit holder knows this is the way things are supposed to go.
There are several things that disturb me, here.
Yes, it’s sure dumb to make any movement that a cop could interpret as “preparing to draw a weapon” when confronted by an armed officer shouting at you, adrenalin pumping.
But where is the statute that says we must instantly obey every shouted command of a police officer, and the punishment for failing to do so is death?
Meantime, why is the public now informed that a license to carry a concealed weapon actually constitutes a license to be made to lie face down on the ground, to be handcuffed and disarmed until police are confident they have everything under control?
The main purpose of the Second and 14th amendments is to retain our power to resist government authority should it someday become excessive or oppressive — a day which appears to approach ever closer. Where would we be today if George Washington et al. had agreed to be handcuffed and disarmed till the Redcoats had everything “sorted out” and decided whether to return the rebels’ arms … unloaded?
Using their dog-eared playbook for ridiculing constitutional concerns, the statists will doubtless sneer, “How absurd! You’re comparing doped-up Erik Scott to George Washington!”
Actually, they mean it’s absurd to “equate” anyone with George Washington. But that’s a red herring. When we say it’s important to protect the free-speech rights of a Lenny Bruce or a George Carlin (or Dutch politician Geert Wilders), lest we eventually lose the free speech rights of people more like Thomas Jefferson, we do not “equate” the importance of the speech of a comedian who wants to say some dirty words with the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson. We only ask, once you set the precedent that free-speech rights can be curtailed in some cases, when and how will you later be able to say, “Wait a minute, now you’ve gone too far”?
Similarly, once the populace accepts that we need a permit to exercise our God-given right to keep and bear arms, and that what the “permit” really means is that we must lay our weapons on the ground, lie belly down like a terrified bitch, ask the authorities to please handcuff us, and then wag our tails with joy if and when they determine we’re “OK,” unshackle us and return our unloaded firearms, can we really stand tall and proudly declare we’ve protected our forefathers’ blood-won heritage as an armed and thus a free people?
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal, and author of “Send in the Waco Killers.” See www.vinsuprynowicz.com/.