A Beverly Hills police lieutenant who’s the subject of two lawsuits alleging he wrongfully removed a sheet covering Whitney Houston’s body says he rolled back part of the covering to examine whether the singer’s skin peeled from being submerged in the hot water of her hotel bathtub.
In a sworn declaration, Lt. Terry Nutall also denied saying “Damn, she’s still looking good, huh?” as alleged in the lawsuits filed against him by a colleague, Sgt. Brian Weir.
In his first lawsuit against the city in March 2014, Weir said he suffered a backlash within the department for reporting Nutall’s alleged actions the night Houston was found dead at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Feb. 11, 2012.
In the second complaint brought in December, he claims he suffered additional retaliation, including a denial of promotions.
Houston was found submerged in a bathtub in her hotel room on the eve of the Grammy Awards. The coroner’s office concluded the 48-year-old entertainer drowned accidentally, with heart disease and cocaine use listed as contributing factors.
Weir’s original suit alleges that Nutall knelt beside and leaned over Houston, removed the sheet covering her body and made remarks “to the effect and substance that (Houston) looked attractive for a woman (of) her age and current state.”
Attorneys for the city have denied any wrongdoing on Nutall’s part. They have filed court papers seeking to dismiss Weir’s original complaint, and Nutall’s sworn declaration is included within the documents.
Nutall, who was a sergeant at the time, acknowledges he lifted part of the covering on the singer’s body, but says he limited it to the portion closest to her ankles.
“It was reported to me that the skin on Ms. Houston’s legs and wrists had peeled back while the paramedics carried her body from the bathroom to the living area of her hotel room,” Nutall says in his declaration. “This raised questions as to why Ms. Houston would voluntarily place herself in and remain in water that was so scaldingly hot that it would begin to peel her skin away.”
Nutall says he was doing his job in examining Houston’s lower body.
“To investigate the circumstances surrounding her death were part of my duties as a detective sergeant, particularly since I was the only detective sergeant on the scene,” Nutall says.
Weir’s lawyer, Christopher Brizzolara, said Weir was present at the scene because he was on patrol that night and was called to assist the first two officers to arrive. He claimed Nutall, then a forgery detective, had no business being there.
Nutall says that after he looked at Houston’s ankles, he saw that blood was soaking the part of the sheet covering the part of her body near her head. He says the paramedics present had put the sheet on Houston and he asked one of them if she was bleeding about the face.
“One of the paramedics rolled the sheet from the top of Ms. Houston’s head to below her chin,” Nutall says in the declaration. “At that point I observed that fresh blood was streaming from Ms. Houston’s nose. One of the paramedics commented that it was likely due to water filling her lungs and forcing blood through her nostrils.”
The paramedics then put the sheet back over Houston’s face, according to Nutall.
“I never removed the sheet from any area other than the portion closest to Ms. Houston’s legs/ankles,” Nutall states. “I did not touch or move the body at any time.”
Nutall says Weir never said anything to him “regarding the partial lifting of the sheet.” He says he found out about Weir’s allegations when he heard the sergeant might be filing a lawsuit.
“I have been informed that Sgt. Weir alleges that I made statements about how Ms. Houston’s body looked when I partially removed the sheet,” Nutall says. “At no point in time did I make any comments about Ms. Houston’s body.”
Nutall also says there was no reason for paramedics to put the sheet on Houston’s body because it was within a private hotel room and out of public view.
Beverly Hills police Chief Dave Snowden and retired Detective Bureau Cmdr. Joseph Chirillo also filed declarations in support of Nutall.
“I did not believe there was any problem with Sgt. Nutall lifting the sheet,” said Chirillo, who retired in 2013 after 30 years with the department. “There was no misconduct or violation of procedure.”
Snowden says in court papers that Weir never said anything to him about Nutall’s actions and that he did not know anything about the sergeant’s allegations until more than 1 1/2 years after Houston’s death.
In his second lawsuit, Weir alleges that three months after filing his first case, he was denied a promotion to a police dog-handling position, a job within the criminal intelligence unit and the chance to work prostitution sting operations, all of which would have brought him more overtime pay and other compensation.
He claims he also has been placed “under increased and unwarranted scrutiny and supervision” and been subjected to “additional harassing, disparaging and retaliatory comments and other communications by the command staff of the department.”
Brizzolara said it is unlawful to disturb or move a decedent’s body without the coroner’s permission. He said taking the sheet from Houston’s body was just as wrong as it would have been to take off a piece of clothing had she been attired at the time of her death.
Weir was on a fast ascent within the department’s promotional ladder before he reported Nutall’s alleged misconduct, Brizzolara said.
Nutall’s alleged actions violated state or federal statutes that forbid disturbing or moving the body of a decedent without permission of the coroner and also presented potential DNA contamination issues, the original lawsuit states.
– City News Service
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