License to Kill : The Murder of Erik Scott — detailing the corruption and incompetence that allowed Las Vegas police to get away with murder.
It’s been over eight years now, but I vividly remember my shock when I read on the internet that Las Vegas police had shot and killed Erik Scott, an upstanding West Point grad, former Army officer, and respected businessman, based upon a security guard’s unsupported claim that he’d been peculiarly in a Las Vegas Costco while wearing a properly licensed concealed carry weapon. My problem was that I respected the police, respected West Point grads, respected concealed carry, and shopped at Costco. On the story’s headline alone, some of that respect was going to have to go out the window.
Further news stories led me to the conclusion that the Erik Scott shooting was a case of run-amok cops and a cowardly corporation. And then, I’m sorry to admit, the case faded from my consciousness. I was left with my conclusions — Scott was a good guy and Las Vegas police officers behaved badly — but I really didn’t know what happened and I did not bother to follow-up on the story. My passivity shames me because what happened in Vegas shouldn’t stay there. It is, instead, an indictment of corrupt policing in Vegas and across America.
Thankfully, a new book that, in a just world, would get a very wide audience, lays bare the incompetence, corruption, and plain old malevolence that is endemic amongst Las Vegas police. That book is License to Kill: The Murder of Erik Scott, by SENTINEL and Mike McDaniel.
Before I go further, I’d better disclose that Mike McDaniel, a former military and civilian police officer and a current English teacher and gun expert, is a blog friend of mine. He writes at Stately McDaniel Manor and is, in my estimation, one of the most brilliant, decent, moral, and honest thinkers in the blogosphere, not to mention a fabulous writer. My belief in Mike’s integrity and intelligence definitely biases me in favor of the book. I’d like to think, though, that even were Mike nothing more than a name on the page, I would write the same review about this superbly written, carefully researched, brutally honest indictment of a police department that sanctions and protects violent, incompetent police officers.
According to the original news reports, the case was straightforward. There was no months-long conspiracy, there was no protracted crime and shootout. Instead, the agreed-upon facts were simple: Erik Scott and his girlfriend Samantha went to Costco in Summerlin, a Vegas suburb. Erik, as always, was armed, with a properly licensed and holstered concealed carry weapon. A store security employee, noticed that Erik had that weapon and, even though he lacked the authority to do so, called the police and made all sorts of statements (later proven false) to the effect that an armed Erik was behaving in a bizarre manner.
The police, arriving in full force and panic mode, proceeded to order everyone out of the store. Erik Scott and Samantha joined the crowd of people leaving the Costco. As they hit the store’s sun-drenched entryway, and with a back-lit Erik walking away from the police and towards the parking lot, the employee who’d made the call to the police pointed Erik out to William Mosher, the police officer in charge. What happened next was caught on the recording line:
Mosher yelled three contradictory, conflicting commands — “Put your hands where I can see them now! Drop it! Get on the ground! Get on the ground! — in less than two seconds, then fired two rounds from a distance of about six feet.
That first shot, fired a mere two seconds after Mosher screamed those bewildering, conflicting commands, hit Erik directly in the heart and was fatal. Between that and Mosher’s second shot to Erik’s leg, the stunned man fell face forward to the ground and lay still. Nevertheless, the two officers with Mosher fired another five other shots into Erik’s back as he lay prone on the ground. Mosher had already killed someone else that year…. Just for the record, this Curly lookalike, is Mosher, caught when he was proudly boasting at the inquest about his murderous police prowess:
From that brutal, heart-rending beginning, License to Kill takes the reader on a meticulously documented journey into a full-bore police cover-up, aided and abetted by a store that desperately wanted to avoid being sued. In subsequent pages we learn about grossly defective police interviews with witnesses, all aimed, not at learning the facts, but at spinning a narrative that Erik had exhibited bizarre behavior in the store and pulled a gun on the officer once outside. To keep this narrative pure, the police dismissed any witnesses who countered this narrative.
Other police incompetence and malfeasance involved failing to secure the store’s security tapes which, like Nixon’s missing 18 minutes, conveniently missed those 4 pivotal minutes during which Erik left the store and got shot; failing to secure the shooting scene; planting and tampering with evidence; illegally entering Erik’s apartment to steal his guns; illegally poring through his private correspondence; limiting his family’s access to his body; and perhaps most heinously, doing everything within the Metro police’s power to paint a picture of Erik, a man liked and respected by all who knew him (except for one ex-wife), as a dangerous, drug-chugging addict who would pull his weapon and wave it around on the slightest provocation.
Because an inherently corrupt, entirely one-sided inquest led inexorably to a verdict that the shooting was justified (foreclosing a criminal trial against the policemen who fired the shots), and because Ninth Circuit policy and a corrupt (or frightened or crazy) state trial court justice made it impossible to bring either state or federal civil actions against Costco and the police, this book is the only thing that can set the record straight, ensuring that Erik is properly remembered as the upstanding citizen and good human being he was, and indicting a police department that had run completely amok.
As to that last point, the book extends far beyond the craven, corrupt behavior that surrounded Erik’s death and the subsequent cover-up. Instead, it looks as a police department that never recovered from the mob’s legacy. It turns out that you can take the mob out of Vegas, but you can’t take it out of the Vegas police department with officers who fatally shoot, on average, ten citizens a year (a record extending back more than two decades), with all the shootings invariably deemed “justified.” This book calls those police to account.
Despite straightforward, lucid writing and the easily comprehensible presentation of relevant facts, License to Kill was one of the most painful books I’ve read in a long time. Reading it — reading about Scott’s death, about the cover-up, and about the slanderous attacks on a dead man’s character — was like helplessly watching a slow-motion train wreck. Although I’m a fast reader, this one took me a while because I kept putting the book down and grabbing chocolate and a warm dog to cope with the real emotional anguish it inspired in me.
Does that mean you shouldn’t read the book? No, quite the opposite. That reality — that pain — precisely the reason why every good citizen should read this book.
I have always supported the police. When I was a little girl and the anti-war protesters in the San Francisco Bay Area were calling them “pigs,” I was standing on sidewalks waving to them as they drove by. I am grateful to those men and women who take on the responsibility, often a mortally dangerous one, of keeping our communities safe. When the Black Lives Matter movement declared war on the police (a war that is still playing out in attacks, sometimes fatal, on police in the past few years), I sided with the police against BLM, which I see as an anarchic movement using black unhappiness to drive a larger, destructive goal than simply remedying racial wrongdoing.
Supporting good police, though, does not mean supporting bad police. As Spiderman says, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
As a civilized society, we’ve theoretically done away with mob violence and vigilante justice by turning most of our self-defense over to the police. They have the guns and we expect them to use them wisely and honorably. Moreover, when some among their number fail to do so, those of us who support and admire law enforcement expect them to police themselves even more vigorously than they would anyone else.
When American law enforcement fails to police itself, when police officers and departments use their great power to brutalize their fellow citizens and exonerate each other from illegal acts, the Linda Scott quotation that heads this quote becomes scarily accurate: One of the hallmarks of a Third World society is a corrupt police force. Honest police — like good garbage men — are one of the hallmarks of a civilized society. A breakdown in either is a symptom of a deeper failing in society as a whole.
Reading License to Kill : The Murder of Erik Scott is a reminder to all of us that, if we wish to hang on to civilization, it is incumbent upon us to support and encourage the tens of thousands of decent, brave police officers across America, and to work with them to shut down entirely the corrupt few who would drag our nation into a dark, violent abyss.