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December 20, 2014

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Constables say system ‘out of control’

Constable controversy

KSNV coverage of a Youtube video that shows local constables cursing, for a reality TV pilot, Jan. 3, 2012

Reality TV, Las Vegas constables

Constables from Henderson, North Las Vegas and Boulder City this morning said the reputations of all constables had been sullied in the last year by the behavior of the Las Vegas Township constable’s office.

The constables addressed the Clark County Commission in the wake of a video being posted to the Web site of Las Vegas Township Constable John Bonaventura, in which deputy constables are shown cursing, making a traffic stop and referring to themselves as “police.”

Henderson Township Constable Earl Mitchell said he welcomed county scrutiny, if only to assure county residents that some constables are doing their job without controversy.

“For the past 12 years, we’ve cleaned up the professionalism of the office,” Mitchell said. “That, I’ll be honest, has been destroyed in the last 12 months.”

“This has gotten out of control,” said North Las Vegas Township Constable Herb Brown, “and until you all saw what was happening, we have been in some heated discussions about some of these activities.”

Brown and other constables, who are elected, have held periodic meetings to discuss such issues. He said they never aired the problems with county commissioners before, “because we thought we could resolve (them). That did not happen. We are as concerned as you all.”

The primary job of deputy constables is to enforce evictions and serve civil documents such as subpoenas, property liens, court summonses and wage garnishments. They carry guns and Tasers, but rarely take people to jail. Deputies get paid based on the number of papers they serve. The office can earn $100, for instance, for every vehicle they find whose owner is a resident but has not registered the vehicle in Nevada.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said after today’s meeting he had been told deputy constables were using radar to find speeding drivers, then using that as “probable cause” to pull over the drivers to check their registration. That stopped, he said, when Sheriff Doug Gillespie asked the constable to stop. Gillespie could not be reached for comment.

Bonaventura, who began his term in January 2011, did not attend the meeting, sending deputies to address questions by county commissioners.

One of his deputies, John Watkins, said the video was never intended to be seen by the public. The video was found on Bonaventura’s Web site and labeled as a “test pilot real for a national reality show.” Bonaventura’s public information officer, Lou Toomin, said last week he thought the video creator, identified as Mark Favreau, sent it to them as a “tongue-in-cheek” joke.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, Watkins said that instead it had been intended as a training video, to show constables how not to act. He also said a reporter had posted the video to YouTube. (While researching Bonaventura, the Sun found the video on the constable’s website and on YouTube, and a staff member later posted it on YouTube again and linked to it through lasvegassun.com.) The video is still listed on Bonaventura’s Web site but cannot be accessed.

Referring to the video, Sisolak blasted the constables office, calling their behavior “unprofessional.”

“You could not do a worse service to the citizens of Clark County,” Sisolak said. “I just cannot believe this is something you would be proud of. I mean, jokes about shoes and purses? People are calling me saying, ‘What in the world is going on?’”

After questioning county legal staff, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said that if the board wanted to rein in the constable by limiting the scope of their activities, that could only be done through a change in state law. The law defines constables as “peace officers,” giving them the full range and reach of Metro Police officers.

That troubled Giunchigliani, who said she did not think the intent of state law was to allow constables to make traffic stops.

“It’s an over-reach,” she added. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and that’s what has occurred here.”

Questions also arose about deputy constable training. Though they carry guns, they do not have to be certified by the Police Officer and Standards Training — or POST — program for at least one year after taking the job.

The constable’s office came under scrutiny two weeks ago, when it sought approval from county commissioners to hire two additional office staff. That led to questions about why the constable had $4.5 million in reserve funds and how that money is being spent.

Giunchigliani also said she wants to make sure the constable used fair hiring practices. “What we want to prevent is the hiring of buddies or cronyism,” she said, adding that she wants an audit of “the office’s performance and its money.”

County records show Bonaventura and Toomin co-purchased a home on Reno Avenue in July 2011. The two also served together in the state Assembly in 1993.

Giunchigliani didn’t comment on the home purchase but said she hopes Bonaventura did not hire Toomin before looking at other qualified candidates.

“It was interesting to find out in the hearing that the previous constable posted job openings for the general public,” she added. “I was surprised to find out that is no longer the case. That is not the perception you want to put out into the public.”

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  1. "The office can earn $100, for instance, for every vehicle they find whose owner is a resident but has not registered the vehicle in Nevada."

    Are they Constables or Bounty Hunters?

    This should not be the role of Constables and it certainly should not be on a commission basis.

  2. Also, if you want people to immediately register their vehicles once they move here...lower the fees. Most people are in sticker shock when they are used to paying $125 a year for vehicle registrations and here it's $425. If their registration has not expired from their last state, I understand them wanting to wait until it does expire before renewing it here.

  3. If this had been some of "Training Video" you would think that they would have gotten the acronyms right. It's "LVMPD" not "LVPD". That immediate blows that excuse out of the water and shows he's lying.

    I also dug up this little gem from Lou Toomin from the LVRJ's website regarding his 2004 run for Assembly District 15:

    "I never have believed we should have public employees serving in the Legislature,"

    Oh, really? THEN WHY ARE YOU NOW A PUBLIC EMPLOYEE WHO RAN FOR OFFICE IN 2010?!

    Total Hypocrite this guy...

    http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2...

  4. How about the constable in Boulder City who got arrested for driving drunk, weapons violations and burglary? These are upstanding public servants indeed!!

  5. Constables serve a useful role in law enforcement. However, that role needs to be proscribed clearly in law and policy. And, sufficient oversight needs to be in place as well.

  6. Absolutely,they are out of control. A constable pulled me over. I was on my way home from California, from my uncle's funeral. He pulled me over for having California license plates.

    He verbally abused me, called me a liar, and a cheater, not paying for proper registration. He gave me a ticket for not registering my car in Nevada. I showed him my suitcase, as I just got here, with my uncles car. When I tried to explain myself, he threatened to put me in jail, and to charge me with evading. I feel I was verbally abused, and unlawfully charged. When I tried to dispute the ticket, the constables office said the ticket was undisputable. Isn't that against my constitutional right to due process?

  7. Sam Tangle: Sorry, but you are wrong. We found the video at www.johnbonaventura.com. The "reality TV" link took us to the video, which was on YouTube. We downloaded the video from YouTube and put it on our Website.

  8. To correct both samtangle and Joe Schoenmann ... I did, in fact, post the story to youtube. I am not, however, Joe's personal managing editor. I edit copy, design the paper and do some website managing.

    When uploading the constables story to our website, I initially attempted to attach the .mov file from www.johnbonaventura.com directly, but unfortunately, either through user error on my part or because of the file size, was unable to do so. So, I went to Plan B, which was to upload the video to youtube and link to it through our site -- the effect being the same.

    Joe couldn't have known about this because it was done on the back end, and that parenthetical in this story must have been edited in by someone else who was unaware that I did what I did and the reasons why I did it.

    My apologies.

  9. To their credit, the few times I have had to contact the Constables' Office, they demonstrated courtesy, promptness, and concern.

    It appears that lines have become a bit blurred over the years about their assigned duties, and this needs reviewing, either yearly or bi-annually, so that they stay focused. Afterall, these public servants have been under incredible stress and strain with the overflow of foreclosures, wage garnishments, and population influx due to the economic climate our country and state, and specifically, Las Vegas area, has been affected with.

    As far as overreach, at times it may be appropriate, and then a time or two, it may be under questionable circumstances, or a coin toss, as to do it or not. School police have many of the same police powers, and must always make sound decisions when it is appropriate to use it, on or off duty.

    Now that we are catching our breaths on the economy, it may be a great time for this agency to assess what they have, evaluate the information, plan, and implement from there.

    Those working in public service do not have it easy, and I have great respect for all they do to keep our society functional and safe. Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  10. Hey QWERTY, just curious, are you posting comments on the taxpayer dime during the day?