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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Beverly Hills Officer Sues Department Over Whitney Houston Death Scene Incident

     On February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston and her entourage were in Beverly Hills, California. The 48-year-old pop singer was there to attend a pre-Grammy party thrown by her mentor, music producer Clive Davis.

     That afternoon Houston's personal assistant left the Beverly Hilton hotel room to pick up items from the Neiman Marcus store. When the assistant returned to the suite at 3:36 PM, she found Houston nude and face down in the bathtub. The assistant summoned Houston's bodyguard and the two of them pulled the unresponsive woman out of the water. A front desk hotel employee called 911.

     Officer Brian Weir, the supervisor of the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) SWAT team, responded to the 911 call. Shortly after arriving at the scene he placed a sheet over the dead woman's body to protect the potential crime scene evidence from contamination. (In reality, the sheet itself contaminated the corpse. Pursuant to California law, police officers are not allowed to touch or in any way alter death site bodies.)

     The forensic pathologist with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined that Whitney Houston had died of accidental drowning. Contributing factors to her death included cocaine use and heart disease.

     Backing up a bit, after officer Weir covered the corpse, Detective Sergeant Terry Nutall arrived at the hotel. What happened at the scene after the sergeant's arrival is in dispute.

     BHPD officer Brian Weir, shortly after Houston's death, filed a complaint with the department against Sergeant Terry Nutall. According to the complaint, Sergenat Nutall had pulled the sheet back from Houston's body and made comments about how good she looked for a woman her age. In so doing, officer Nutall not only acted inappropriately, he contaminated a potential murder scene.

     Following an internal departmental inquiry into the complaint, a high-ranking police official announced that Sergeant Nutall had not acted inappropriately at the Whitney Houston death scene. Sometime later, officer Weir was removed from his position as head of the BHPD SWAT team.

     In September 2013, Weir's attorney, Dmitry Gorin, filed a preliminary civil suit on the officer's behalf against the Beverly Hills Police Department. The former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney told reporters that, "If proven, officer Nutall's actions were highly inappropriate and demonstrate very poor judgement by a senior BHPD officer. A law enforcement officer more interested in what a decedent's body looks like than securing a possible crime scene may taint the original placement of DNA and fiber evidence, causing investigators to miss data and draw incorrect conclusions." (As a potential murder scene, the site had already been compromised by the removal of the body from the bathtub and the placing of the sheet over the corpse.)

     On March 10, 2014, officer Terry Weir filed a formal lawsuit against the department. The legal action, filed on his behalf by attorney Christopher Brizzolara, seeks unspecified damages for the plaintiff's pain and suffering and loss of overtime and special unit pay. Officer Weir alleges that since reporting Sergeant Nutall (who has since been promoted to lieutenant), he has been harassed and ostracized for snitching on a fellow officer. 

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