Erik Scott was a West Point graduate who went on to serve honorably in the Army, get his MBA from Duke and establish a lucrative career in real estate and as a sales rep for a medical device company. He was 38 years old when he was gunned down in 2010 in the portico of a Las Vegas area Costco store by officers from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. While it was 7 bullets from the only people we’re supposed to trust with guns that snuffed out Erik Scott’s life, what really killed him was an irrational fear of firearms – hoplophobia.
Scott and his girlfriend had been shopping in the Costco, but had been asked to leave when an employee spotted Scott’s lawfully carried handgun. Scott had inadvertently exposed the gun when he squatted down to inspect some merchandise. He informed the employee that he was legally carrying the gun and was in possession of a valid Nevada concealed weapons permit, but was informed that Costco has a policy against carrying firearms in their stores.
A brief argument ensued, some raised voices and obvious frustration on Scott’s part, but witnesses said it didn’t seem like a big deal. They saw nothing particularly threatening about the incident or the clean-cut, good looking young man. The store manager who had spoken with Scott seemed satisfied by Scott’s reassurance that he was a legal firearm carrier and would be finished with his shopping in a few minutes. But a store Loss Prevention Officer called the police and reported that an armed man was behaving erratically in the store.
That report, based on irrational fear, and perhaps some personal envy, triggered events which quickly spiraled out of control. It seems that the fear factor was taken up a notch with each description of the story to the point that responding officers believed they were going into a violent hostage situation with a heavily armed and dangerous Green Beret.
Las Vegas MPD responded with a city-wide alert, street closures, helicopter support and deployment of a Mobile Command Center. The first officers on the scene arrived as Costco employees were following telephone instructions from the police to calmly evacuate the store.
As Scott and his girlfriend fell in with other patrons flowing out of the exit door, the Loss Prevention Officer who started the whole mess pointed toward Scott and a police officer at the door suddenly began yelling “Stop! I said Stop! Drop the gun! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!”
He fired these conflicting commands in quick succession giving Scott no opportunity to comply with any of them and then fired two rounds at Scott’s chest. As the officer began yelling and Scott realized he was the subject of the commands, he turned, lifting his hands, and apparently tried to follow the legal requirement to immediately inform an officer that he was an armed weapons permit holder, but he didn’t have time.
The officer’s frantic orders lasted for a slow count of 3 and were immediately followed by the two gunshots, a momentary pause, and a volley of several more shots. There was no pause or hesitation between the commands and the shots. The first round struck Erik Scott in the heart, the second hit his right thigh. As he collapsed to the ground, two other officers fired 5 more shots into his back. Numerous witnesses reported that they saw Scott turn and declare that he was a permit holder. Many said they could see both of his hands and that he made no threatening move. All agreed that the only gun they saw was the one in Scott’s waistband on his right hip.
Other witnesses reported that they saw Scott’s body removed by EMTs and saw nothing on the ground except blood and a cell phone, or sun glasses. EMTs reported that they removed Scott’s gun and holster from the waistband of his jeans in the ambulance and that they saw no other gun, yet, after police broke into Scott’s apartment and confiscated the firearms there, the story came out that Scott was carrying two guns that day.
A picture of the second gun, on the ground near a cell phone, after the blood on the pavement had been cleaned up, is the “proof” that Scott had two guns and pulled one on MPD officers. The store’s video surveillance system inexplicably malfunctioned for the several seconds of the shooting.
A coroner’s inquest concluded that the shooting was justified, just as a similar inquest had concluded that the gunning down of an unarmed, small-time pot dealer in his apartment a short time before the Scott shooting was ruled to be justified. Just as such coroner’s inquests have concluded that officer involved shootings were justified in 199 out of 200 incidents since 1976.
Erik Scott’s family has strongly contested the conclusions of the coroner’s inquest and the entire inquest process. They succeeded in getting some changes made to that process, but those changes have been held up by suits from the police union.
The Scotts filed a wrongful death suit in federal court, but recently dropped that effort, convinced that they had no hope of winning with the system stacked against them.
Erik Scott’s father, a former Air Force flight test engineer and writer for the prestigious aerospace magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology, has painted a sympathetic, fictionalized portrait of Erik and the events of that day as part of a new novel he is offering in serialized form at ThePermit.blogspot.com in hopes of maintaining awareness of Erik’s tragic death and bringing attention to corruption within the justice system and government of Las Vegas.
The police have a difficult job. They are put in positions and asked to do things that most of us would run away from, but authority and power must be tempered with responsibility and accountability. For decades lawmakers and courts have built up walls of protection around police and other government workers. It is critical that these public servants be protected from frivolous suits and baseless harassment, but they must be held accountable for their actions and investigations into their activities must be beyond reproach. That is not the case currently.
When one person’s irrational fear of a peacefully armed man can result in that man being gunned down by police with no consequences for anyone except the victim and his friends and family, something is terribly, terribly wrong. Hoplophobia killed Erik Scott and a corrupt system allowed his accusers and executioners get away with it.