It’s been more than a month since James “Tony” Scott was shot and killed by police in east Bismarck.
His wife, Jamie Scott, wants answers.
She knows what the public knows. A Bismarck officer fired his gun at Tony Scott after he allegedly threatened a man with a shotgun.
But she couldn’t tell you where exactly he was shot, where he died or what police were thinking, because law enforcement is not required to give out most information relating to active criminal investigations. For Jamie Scott, that fact is agonizing.
“I would like to know what happened to make them shoot an unarmed man,” she said.
Tony Scott left the shotgun inside the building before he ran, though police might not have known that at the time.
Law enforcement officials can withhold information during an investigation if they feel releasing it would jeopardize the case, though they are aware that doing so can be trying for families.
Around 10 a.m. the day after the shooting, Jamie Scott, of Mandan, and her mom met with two Bismarck officers and a chaplain. They gave her the details they gave the public. She asked followup questions, like how many times he was shot, she said, and got few answers.
She found out he was shot three times by looking under his hospital gown at the funeral home.
She was not at home the night of the shooting, and she came back the next day to find her house had been searched. Lt. Patrick Haug said Mandan Police wanted to make sure she was safe.
That afternoon, Tony Scott’s name was all over the news.
Later, state agencies sent copies of his death certificate, which specifies his cause of death as “homicide” and the source of the injury as “shot by another individual with a .223 caliber rifle,” as well as evidence logs for property collected from the crime scene that night, including cigarettes, a lighter and keys.
She asked the medical examiner for an autopsy. They denied it, because the case remains under investigation. She asked the attorney general’s office for details. They said the same. She said she asked Bismarck police for a report and turned up empty. The department does not record requests for reports they won’t release, Sgt. Mark Buschena, of the Bismarck Police Department, said, which would include any request for this report.
“I feel like they have basically told me that my husband’s death doesn’t matter because it was from a police officer,” she said.
When someone is killed in a shooting, Bismarck and Mandan police departments send officers, usually accompanied by a chaplain, to notify family, according to Haug and Buschena. They may help them contact family or friends, so a person is not left alone. Buschena said the Bismarck chaplain will offer to help make funeral arrangements and provide support in the future if needed.
As the investigation progresses, Haug said he tries to keep family apprised of how the investigation is going and how far along they are, but won’t give many details until police finish the investigation. Some families want information while others want to wait until the investigation is complete, he said.
Haug acknowledged that the investigation period can be frustrating and difficult for families.
“They want answers as bad as we do,” he said.
Buschena said the Bismarck department has a similar policy, typically sharing information about the status of the investigation but not the substance of it. Sharing more information could “jeopardize the investigation,” he said, as details or leads could get back to the suspect or witnesses.
Families of homicide victims are entitled to autopsy reports, state forensic examiner Dr. William Massello III said, but not until law enforcement is done investigating.
Life after the shooting
Jamie Scott, 32, is now a single mom, facing what anyone who loses a spouse might face.
Tony Scott’s last paycheck arrived just before the funeral, she said, and she faces a mountain of debt, including a $2,120 ambulance bill from that night. While she has a job, she is trying to start a catering business, she said. She must sell her Mandan house, she said, and cannot file for her husband’s life insurance without the police report.
Her 4-year-old son Mac started talking recently about building a robot that would take the two of them to heaven to see his dad.
She also said she faces public ridicule, especially on social media and in online comments.
“I feel like I’ve had to be a recluse because people automatically blame my husband,” she said.
Tony Scott was a union industrial painter at Swanson and Youngdale, and Jamie Scott describes him as a hard worker who loved his family. He liked fishing and his favorite band was Pink Floyd.
He had his issues, she said, and he made his fair share of mistakes.
Tony Scott had a number of criminal convictions for gross sexual imposition, burglary and terrorizing, according to court records.
But making mistakes made him forgiving and understanding, she said, adding that he was accepting of people in all types of life.
“I want the truth”
Jamie Scott’s father was a Mandan police officer, and she said the frustration with law enforcement is new to her.
“I think about that police officer every day,” she said of the man who fired at Tony Scott. But waiting so long and being denied information has “shaken my firm beliefs in law enforcement,” she said.
Jamie Scott said a BCI agent she spoke with recently told her that it could be weeks before information can be released.
Scott was the third person shot by Bismarck police this year; the other two were injured. An investigation into the officer-involved shooting of Travis Clark in late January recently concluded after nearly two and a half months. The two officers were cleared, and they returned to duty last week. The investigation into the shooting of Miguel Stubing in mid-January is ongoing after almost three months.
Recently, Jamie Scott hired a lawyer to help her investigate.
“I don’t want millions of dollars,” she said. “I want the truth.”
“I would like to know what happened to make them shoot an unarmed man.” — Jamie Scott, wife of man killed in officer-involved shooting