Family sues Las Vegas police after 65-year-old dies in custody

Peter Goldstein A Personal Injury Atorney
Roy Scott and daughter Rochelle Scott are shown in this undated photo. Roy Scott died Sunday, March 3, 2019, while in Las Vegas police custody. Rochelle Scott has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department. (Courtesy of Rochelle Scott)

The family of a 65-year-old man who died in 2019 while in Metropolitan Police Department custody filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the agency Wednesday, alleging officers did not help the man while he was handcuffed and unresponsive for nearly nine minutes.

Roy Anthony Scott, of Las Vegas, died March 3, 2019, after he struggled with police when they tried to handcuff him and pat him down for weapons. Scott, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, called 911 about 3:10 a.m. that day to report three suspicious men outside his apartment, but no men were found, police have said.

The Clark County coroner’s office ruled his death an accident because of methamphetamine intoxication, with other significant conditions including paranoid schizophrenia and hypertensive and arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. He was pronounced dead at Valley Hospital Medical Center, the coroner’s office has said.

The complaint, which was filed in federal court, said that Metro officers Kyle Smith and Theodore Huntsman handcuffed Scott, who was “subjected to a pressure restraint while prone on the sidewalk and gravel area in front of his apartment.”

The Metropolitan Police Department on Thursday said Smith and Huntsman, who were placed on routine administrative leave last year, are now active-duty. The department declined to comment further on the case, citing the litigation.

The lawsuit names Scott’s daughter, Rochelle Scott, as the plaintiff seeking punitive damages, attorney fees and compensation for burial and funeral costs.

The complaint said an officer kneeled on Scott’s neck and back for a minute and a half as he “cried and pleaded to be placed in a patrol car.”

Scott said “please” 63 times over eight minutes, then fell “motionless,” the complaint said. He did not receive CPR or chest compressions until an ambulance arrived “approximately nine minutes later,” the complaint said.

“Scott died on the ground, handcuffed, pleading with Huntsman and Smith for water and to just take him into the patrol car,” the complaint said.

Shortly after Scott’s death, Metro released about nine minutes of body-camera footage showing officers confronting Scott, handcuffing him and him moaning on the ground. The department did not release footage of him falling unresponsive or paramedics arriving.

But footage sent to the Review-Journal by Rochelle Scott’s attorney, Peter Goldstein, showed the officers’ full interaction with Scott, confirming the timeline detailed in the complaint.

The video showed officers confronting and pointing their guns at Scott, who threw down a pipe and turned over a small knife in his pocket. Scott told them that he has schizophrenia and that he doesn’t want to turn around for a pat-down because he’s “paranoid.”

When officers did attempt to move him, he resisted and fell to the ground, all while asking, “Why are you doing this?” The footage then showed the officer with his knee on Scott’s back.

At one point, an officer told Scott to “stop hitting your head on the concrete,” while his foot twitched. The complaint said that while Scott was on the ground, his feet were “slightly involuntarily shaking as if he’s having some kind of seizure.”

Shortly after Scott stopped moving, a neighbor asked if he should get water, but an officer said he wanted medical personnel to “take care of it; I don’t want to get him spazzed out any more than he already is.”

A paramedic didn’t get to Scott until about eight minutes after he stops moving, the footage showed. Officers periodically said to each other that he was still breathing, but medical personnel started CPR when Scott was loaded into the ambulance.

Before the ambulance arrived, an officer commented that “he’s like totally weirding me out with how calm he is,” the footage showed.

A call for justice

Rochelle Scott said in a phone interview Thursday that police had been to her father’s apartment several times and should have known what to do when talking to him.

“You just don’t treat people like that, especially with a mental illness,” she said. “They knew who he was.”

Scott said she feels connected to high-profile cases of Black men who die in police custody and said she feels like her family is also “a victim to that.”

She doesn’t want the attention that comes with protests and marches, but she moved forward with the lawsuit because she believes her father “deserves justice.” She dreams of making a difference in the police reform movement by figuring out how social workers or crisis teams can respond to people with mental illnesses who call 911.

“He was calling for help,” Scott said. “What are you supposed to do? You’re supposed to call for help when something’s wrong.”