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October 2, 2014

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THE COURTS:

New details emerge in suit against Gibbons

Governor’s alleged assaults of cocktail waitress in garage, at hotel described

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Sam Morris

Chrissy Mazzeo and her lawyer, Bob Kossack, announce their lawsuit against Gov. Jim Gibbons Wednesday in Kossack’s office. Gibbons denies the allegations that he assaulted Mazzeo, saying she tripped and he grabbed her to stop her from falling.

Exhibit photos in Mazzeo case

Chrissy Mazzeo Launch slideshow »

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With a confidence she lacked two years ago, Chrissy Mazzeo is swinging harder this time at Gov. Jim Gibbons and the political establishment she says covered up for him.

Her toughened attitude, she told the Las Vegas Sun last week, is the result of two years of reflection on how her life as a single mother and cocktail waitress was turned upside down after she alleged Gibbons had assaulted her outside a Flamingo Road restaurant in the final weeks of his campaign for governor.

Gibbons was cleared of criminal wrongdoing, but Mazzeo said her reputation was smeared, leaving her blacklisted on the Strip and forcing her to leave town.

Mazzeo, 34, insisted she just wants to get the truth out about what happened between her and Gibbons outside McCormick & Schmick’s that rainy night of Oct. 13, 2006.

Mazzeo’s version of the events is contained in a 33-page lawsuit her new attorney, Robert Kossack, filed in federal court last week, alleging her civil rights were violated during the encounter and in the subsequent police investigation she contends was a cover-up.

Among those named as defendants in the suit are Gibbons; his chief political strategist, Sig Rogich; his attorney, Don Campbell; and former Sheriff Bill Young, all of whom say the suit is frivolous and will ultimately be dismissed.

The Sun compared the allegations in the lawsuit with the facts known publicly and provided in police reports two years ago.

The comparison found that Mazzeo is providing new details about the encounter.

For the first time, Mazzeo offers a vivid description of the events as she and Gibbons were walking inside the Hughes Center parking garage across the street from McCormick & Schmick’s.

“Then, suddenly and completely uninvited and in response to nothing more than his uncontrolled sexual lust, Gibbons grabbed a hold of Mazzeo’s arms, his left hand grasped around her right biceps and his right hand grasped around her left biceps, and shoved Mazzeo 10 feet until she was pinned against the northwest wall, the upper half of which was a chain link fence, in a corner formed by a column northeast of the elevator, causing scratches to Mazzeo’s back,” the lawsuit claims.

Mazzeo never came close to such details in her interviews with police two years ago. She often appeared confused about exactly where it all happened.

“She has a clearer mind now,” Kossack said. “This thing so rocked her at the time. If you listen to the 911 tapes, she was half-hysterical and extremely excited and did not convey well to the operators.”

Before putting together the latest version of the encounter, Kossack said, he talked to people Mazzeo had telephoned between the 911 calls, including her sister, to get their versions of what she had told them. Then he said he sat down with Mazzeo at length and tried to jog her memory. They both also went out to the scene to take photographs and retrace her steps.

In the suit, which reads like a long narrative, Mazzeo says an expressionless Gibbons squeezed her arms “harder and harder,” telling her, “You can try to run away or you can let this happen.” Then he allegedly said, “I’m not going to (expletive) you. I’m going to rape you.”

Gibbons has contended for two years that he merely had grabbed Mazzeo after she tripped while they were walking to keep her from falling, and the two said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

Mazzeo, however, says for the first time in the suit that she had to give Gibbons a “swift kick” to his shins to escape his grasp while he was distracted by three youths who were running through the garage.

After freeing herself, the suit says, Mazzeo told Gibbons, “Go (expletive) yourself,” and she ran out of the parking garage.

Mazzeo told police she ran several hundred yards to La Quinta Inn on Paradise Road, where she called 911 a second time to report the alleged assault.

What she didn’t tell police was that she had a second alleged encounter with Gibbons at the hotel, an encounter Gibbons denied took place.

The suit claims for the first time that Gibbons had gone back to McCormick & Schmick’s after she fled and learned that she was at La Quinta.

When Gibbons showed up at La Quinta, the suit says, Mazzeo saw him through the lobby window and ran out the door.

“As Mazzeo passed Gibbons ... Gibbons grabbed her arm and said, “Wait, I need to talk to you. You screwed up because you called 911. You’ll be sorry,” the suit says. “Mazzeo pulled herself free of Gibbons’ grip, pointed her finger at Gibbons and responded, “Go (expletive) yourself.”

Two years ago, the Sun interviewed night clerk Kim Hartnett about a similar encounter she witnessed outside her hotel at the time.

Hartnett said she saw a man of similar appearance to Gibbons grab the arm of a woman who was yelling and pointing a finger at the man. But when Hartnett was later pressed by police, she couldn’t positively identify either Gibbons or Mazzeo.

Mazzeo’s suit also reopens questions about the authenticity of the parking garage security videotapes that helped persuade police not to file charges against Gibbons.

Police and Gibbons’ attorneys said the fact that neither Gibbons nor Mazzeo appeared on the publicly released tapes proved that Mazzeo’s claims were fabrications.

The tapes showed images from 14 cameras in the garage, switching from view to view in a constant rotation, stamped with the date and times that included the time the incident allegedly occurred. They showed no people or even any parked cars.

Mazzeo has contended the tapes would help corroborate her story — and that a police officer who mysteriously vanished from the initial investigation had assured her that this was the case.

In the suit, she claims that after police picked her up and drove her back to McCormick & Schmick’s, they told her they were “pulling the video cameras up.”

About an hour later, the suit says, Officer Edward Ortega told her, “Chrissy, we believe you. There is so much evidence. We got the tapes, we believe you.” (Mazzeo had mentioned Ortega two years ago but never described the conversation in any detail.)

The suit says Ortega told her police would arrest Gibbons — but not immediately.

Gibbons wasn’t arrested, and Ortega “was never heard from again,” the suit says.

Mazzeo believes a cover-up quickly took root because Ortega’s account didn’t match the official police account.

In his report, lead detective Mike Hnatuick said Ortega had learned from a Hughes Center security officer that security cameras in the garage “were not recording at the time of the incident.”

Two weeks after the encounter, however, videotapes of the evening in question mysteriously surfaced without any sign of Mazzeo or Gibbons in the parking garage.

Ortega couldn’t be reached for comment by the Sun last week.

Mazzeo alleges in the suit that some of the tapes displayed the wrong date, and she notes there were no wet tire marks to be seen anywhere in the footage of the garage — despite the heavy rains that fell the night of the incident.

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