Las Vegas Sun

August 30, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: COPS AND COURTS:

Senator backs man accused in ’04 assault

He takes stand as character witness during man’s trial

Dennis Nolan says he always found Gordon Joseph Lawes to be a “good guy” in the 10 years he’s known him.

That’s why the two-term state senator took the unusual step of testifying as a character witness for Lawes on Wednesday at his friend’s sexual assault trial in the courtroom of District Judge Valorie Vega.

Lawes, 26, a former campaign volunteer who plays club hockey with Nolan, is accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl following a night of drinking in April 2004.

After Nolan, a Republican from Las Vegas, testified under questioning from a defense attorney that he found Lawes to be a person of solid character, Chief Deputy District Attorney Lisa Luzaich provided Nolan, and the jury, with a view of another side of the defendant.

On cross-examination, she asked Nolan whether he would change his opinion about Lawes if he knew Lawes had admitted to police that he walked naked down the stairs of his residence in 2004 and had sex with the “passed out drunk” teen.

Nolan replied, “I think so,” thus awkwardly ending his brief appearance in court.

Afterward, however, Nolan said, “I would be shocked if they find him guilty of what he’s been accused of. I’ve always had a positive relationship with him.”

Nolan said he has been told the sexual encounter between Lawes and the teen was consensual.

Nolan, a law-and-order Republican, is taking a political gamble testifying on behalf of a man accused of rape. He’s leaving himself vulnerable to his political enemies, who could try to make his court appearance an issue if he runs for reelection in 2010.

On the other hand, perhaps his loyalty and his willingness to stick his neck out for a friend in need could be considered admirable.

One thing is certain, however. Lawes won’t be the only one sweating out a verdict this week.

•••

The Nevada Public Safety Department has concluded its internal investigation into the disappearance of large quantities of drugs and guns from a state evidence vault in Fallon.

And there’s word that four more department investigators caught up in the probe, one a captain, face disciplinary proceedings.

Nevada Investigations Division Lt. John Drew, whose responsibilities included the vault’s security, retired July 1 after serving nearly five months of paid administrative leave during the internal inquiry.

Public Safety Director Jerry Hafen, who inherited the probe when he took office in February, said he has created a disciplinary panel to recommend punishment as severe as termination for the other four investigators. Members of the panel include ranking officers with Public Safety Department agencies that use the evidence vault, the Investigations Division, the Nevada Highway Patrol and the Nevada Parole and Probation Division.

Hafen said he still doesn’t know the whereabouts of about 90 guns and large quantities of methamphetamine and other drugs.

But he added the internal probe did not turn up evidence that the missing items were stolen. The guns and drugs, he said, were apparently destroyed without proper documentation.

The agency, however, isn’t out of the woods just yet. The Nevada attorney general’s office still has an ongoing criminal investigation into the disappearance of the evidence.

Tighter procedures, meanwhile, are being considered to keep track of things in Fallon, Hafen said.

•••

The Las Vegas FBI field office Friday will join the nationwide celebration of the bureau’s 100th birthday.

Local dignitaries and politicians, minus those the FBI recently sent off to prison on corruption charges, have been invited to participate in the festivities. The actual anniversary is July 26.

You know this is considered an important milestone in the colorful history of the FBI because the field office is springing for refreshments.

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