By Mike Kaszuba
On the morning that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead in western Texas, the Presidio County Sheriff’s office received a 911 call from a man who calmly stated that he had a “potential death” to report.
“I’m in a remote location . . . Cibolo Creek Ranch,” the 911 caller said. Frustrated by delays after he asked the dispatcher for phone numbers for the U.S. Marshal’s office and Sheriff Danny Dominguez, the caller could be heard saying “if that was an emergency [involving me], I’d be dead.”
Documents, police logs, and audio recordings obtained by Public Record Media, a Saint Paul non-profit, provide a fuller picture of the confusion surrounding the sudden, mid-February death of Justice Scalia, one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative voices.
Sheriff’s report provides details
A three-page sheriff’s report – which had previously been made public by the Washington Post — showed that Texas businessman John Poindexter, the owner of the exclusive west Texas ranch where Scalia was staying, began contacting authorities around mid-day on February 13th. According to the report, Poindexter called the sheriff’s office shortly after noon, and soon began verbally tussling with the sheriff.
Poindexter “advised me that he needed the number of the U.S. Marshal Service so he could report a death on his ranch,” Dominguez wrote in his report. “I then advised Poindexter that a death reported in Presidio County was under my jurisdiction and that it should be reported to my office.”
“He then stated to me that this death was way beyond my authority and that it should go to the Feds,” Dominguez wrote. “I then replied it doesn’t matter who it is, it was still under my jurisdiction.” According to the sheriff’s notes, Poindexter still refused to provide the name of the deceased at that time.
Not until Dominguez arrived at the ranch nearly an hour later – and was met by Poindexter and Allen Foster, a Washington lawyer and friend of Scalia’s — was the sheriff told that the death involved a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. “I then asked Poindexter what had happened,” the sheriff wrote.
Audio recordings of the 911 phone calls to the sheriff’s office – also obtained by PRM – show the unidentified caller, likely Poindexter, giving few details regarding his call, and then getting frustrated. “[I have] a potential death that I have to report. Can you give me the Marshal’s office number?” the caller asked during a 911 exchange that lasted more than six minutes.
“Do you have an emergency, or no?” the 911 dispatcher responded, trying to clarify.
“Yes,” said the caller. “I need a phone number to deal with it. Could you get me the phone number of Dominguez, the sheriff?”
Routine Saturday disrupted
Records obtained by PRM show that what had begun as a routine Saturday for the sheriff’s office quickly exploded into a frenzy. As the sheriff was arriving at Cibolo Creek Ranch, a San Antonio newspaper was calling, requesting “information on somebody who has passed away that is important, [reference] to Antonin Scalia.”
An hour later, more calls to the sheriff’s department rolled in. “US Attorney office in Alpine [requesting] information on if the rumors are true,” one sheriff’s log stated. Moments later, a caller from the highway patrol phoned and was “interested in what happened [at] Cibolo Creek. By 4:30, NBC was calling from New York, as was the Washington Post, Fox News, the Huffington Post and People Magazine.
Back at Cibolo Creek Ranch, Sheriff Dominguez was told that Scalia had arrived at the ranch the day before for a weekend of visiting and hunting. The sheriff subsequently wrote in his report that Poindexter told him he had dinner with Scalia on Friday evening, and that Scalia “said that he was tired and was going to his room for the night. His friend Foster stated the same.”
Sheriff describes death scene
The sheriff’s report then noted that Dominguez entered the room where Scalia’s body was lying in a bed. “All seemed to be in order,” the report stated. “Scalia was on the bed facing up, covered with bed sheets up to his chin. Scalia was laying on three pillows stacked up to elevate his head, and appeared to have fallen asleep in that position, indicating he died in that position as well.”
“The top pillow case appeared to have shifted at some point in the night due to the weight of his head on the pillow, causing the pillow case to slide down and cover his eyes. The position of the pillow did not seem to have inhibited Scalia’s breathing,” the report added.
“A breathing apparatus was present on the table next to the lamp, on the left side of the bed. The hose for the machine was resting on the edge of the left side of the bed on the bed sheets. The breathing machine was switched off and the hose was not attached to Scalia,” the sheriff reported.
In his report, the sheriff also stated that Scalia’s briefcase was lying on a chair, but was closed. “In the kitchen area of the room, there was a blue stretch band exercise device that had been placed on the counter.”
Meanwhile, Dominguez had also been on the phone with a local county judge. After getting a description of what the sheriff had found, the judge officially pronounced Scalia dead over the phone at 1:52 p.m.
Within minutes, U.S. Marshal’s Office agents arrived at the ranch, and their supervisor quickly instructed them “to not allow anyone else inside the room until he arrived.” A high-ranking U.S. Marshal administrator from El Paso soon arrived by helicopter. The sheriff’s report then added that “the FBI was contacted by the U.S. Marshal Service in reference to Scalia’s death. However the FBI declined to get involved in the investigation, after hearing the report of the circumstances of the death from the U.S. Marshals.”
Dominguez wrote that at approximately midnight, “the funeral home departed the premises with Scalia’s body, along with the U.S. Marshals and myself.”
Call logs reveal media, citizen inquiries
Back at the sheriff’s office, the phones rang throughout the afternoon and evening. A caller wanted to know whether there would be an autopsy. The Los Angeles Times wondered whether there would be a press conference. An unidentified caller said that they didn’t “like that government said that he died of natural causes. Thinks —-“. The remainder of the phone call log entry has been blacked out.
Scalia-related calls to the sheriff’s office were interspersed with the day’s routine phone traffic. While the sheriff continued his work at Cibolo Creek Ranch, his department was dealing with more routine Saturday night events, including a report of a “party, huge fire, screaming.” Deputies were also investigating a white pickup truck with a “Mexican racing league sticker on back windshield.” Early the next morning, the sheriff’s department was also looking into a report of “10 illegal immigrants head N [with] backpack head NE on the creek bed.”
But Scalia’s death, and its aftermath, continued to preoccupy Dominguez’ sheriff’s department. By noon on Sunday – the day after Scalia’s body was found – Dominguez wanted to know details of what the Associated Press and New York Times were calling about, according to police logs.
Meanwhile, individuals harboring suspicions were calling the sheriff with input, suggesting that Scalia may not have died from natural causes. “Concerned citizen wanting us to tell sheriff to order a autopsy on the judge. He was ref to his death saying there was [numerous] way to kill somebody. (He gave examples FBI, CIA, then he mentioned we have different way to kill people. He wouldn’t give me his name or #,” according to a report in the Sunday afternoon call log.
One caller wanted to confirm whether Scalia had died from a heart attack. The TV program Inside Edition called to say they would “be in town tomorrow.” Another call log simply read: “Sandy – concerned citizen has information ref to the death at Cibolo Creek.” A short time later, a “private consultant” called the sheriff’s office to say “that what [the judge] did was illegal” in pronouncing Scalia dead and allowing the body to leave the county.
Four days after Scalia’s body was found, calls were still coming in to the sheriff’s office. Inside Edition called mid-morning on Feb. 17 and wanted “to know if there was a 911 transcript.” Inside Edition would call seven more times in the next four and a half hours. The next day, Inside Edition would renew its request to interview the sheriff, saying “Inside Edition can get a [camera] crew out here if he was willing to change his mind.”
A week after the Scalia’s body was found, the sheriff’s department’s call log showed that – at least on the surface – things were back to normal. “Two cars are chasing after each other by the Bride mansion on west side of town. Tell 506 go lights out and sneak on over there,” a sheriff’s log entry noted.