Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012 | 4:04 p.m.
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.”