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August 1, 2014

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Constable’s missteps, county commission’s aggravation come to a head

Decision on whether to abolish constable’s office expected today

Image

Steve Marcus

The constable patch is shown on Deputy Constable Patrick Geary’s uniform Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013.

For years, employees of the Las Vegas Township Constable’s Office kept a low profile as they went about their work serving court documents and evictions.

That changed after late 2010 when John Bonaventura was elected constable.

Over the next several years, Bonaventura repeatedly found himself and his office embroiled in controversy, drawing sharp criticisms from Clark County commissioners and constables in other townships.

Lawsuits alleging harassment and discrimination in the workplace and misconduct by deputies in the field have dogged Bonaventura’s office.

Other missteps include an ill-fated reality television pilot and an ongoing battle against other constables in Clark County, whom Bonaventura has accused of encroaching on his territory.

Commissioners have encountered trouble reining in Bonaventura because he is an elected official and his office’s budget is self-generated through fees collected by serving civil documents such as subpoenas, property liens, court summonses and wage garnishments.

Today, the commission will discuss whether to do away entirely with the office and abolish it once Bonaventura’s term ends in 2015, a power granted to them under state law.

Before the vote, here’s a look at several controversies the constable has been involved with since he took office in 2011:

    • Not camera ready

      Early signs of trouble cropped up in December 2011 when a video described as a “test pilot” of a reality show showing Las Vegas Constable’s Office employees on the job was posted online to Bonaventura’s personal website.

      In addition to footage of deputies making arrests and enforcing evictions, the video featured several constable employees brandishing weapons and using profane language.

      After the video was made public, the county commission asked Bonaventura to come before the board and report on his office’s activities. Bonaventura deferred, instead sending some of his deputies, who told the board the office was not pursuing a reality television show and the video was meant as a training tool to show employees how not to act.

      Although no reality television show was ever produced, reports surfaced in August that cameras were still filming constable’s employees on the job.

    • Wrongful termination lawsuit

      All of the reality television filming didn’t result in a finished show, but it did lead to a lawsuit against the constable’s office by two former deputies.

      Daniel Palazzo and Timothy Beckett allege they were retaliated against for refusing to represent the constable when he was called before the county commission to answer questions about the video.

      According to the lawsuit, Bonaventura asked the two to lie to the commission about his absence. When they refused to do so and questioned the office’s involvement in filming the reality television show, Beckett and Palazzo said they were demoted and had their pay cut, according to court documents.

      The two were fired Jan. 31, 2012, and filed suit against Bonaventura and the constable’s office, alleging violations of their constitutional rights, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case is working its way through the federal court system.

    • Pit bulls for sale

      A sign advertising pit bull puppies for sale at a home owned by Bonaventura and his spokesman, Lou Toomin, drew the attention of county animal control in January 2012.

      Staff cited the owner of the dogs, Wilbert Ramos, for having animals that hadn’t been spayed or neutered and for having no proof of vaccination for the dogs.

      Bonaventura was not cited in the case and said the dogs belonged to a friend of one of his tenants, who did not have permission to have the dogs on the property.

    • Allegations of sexual harassment

      As the only female deputy in the constable’s office, Kristy Henderson said she was subject to repeated sexual harassment by her colleagues, including Bonaventura, who allegedly expressed his excitement over her “hard body.”

      Henderson detailed that incident and many others in sexual harassment complaints she filed with the Clark County Office of Diversity and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after she was fired in July 2012.

      In the complaint, Henderson said she was told by supervisors that her services “were no longer needed,” but she claims her termination was retaliation for arguing that the five-day suspension issued to her boyfriend, constable’s deputy Ray Jacoby, did not follow state-outlined procedures.

      Jacoby was fired about one month after Henderson for alleged misconduct stemming from an incident earlier in the year in which he had accessed confidential records without authorization.

      In a lawsuit filed against Bonaventura and the constable’s office, Jacoby said he was running a warrant check at a citizen’s request and was fired in retaliation after he was mentioned in media stories about Henderson’s sexual harassment complaint.

      The constable’s office has denied wrongdoing in Henderson’s and Jacoby’s cases. Jacoby’s lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in 2014 in Clark County District Court.

    • Conflict among the constables

      When Bonaventura felt the Henderson and Laughlin constables were encroaching on his jurisdiction and cutting into his potential business, he filed a lawsuit in July to keep them out.

      A District Court judge agreed and issued a preliminary injunction in the case, but to activate the injunction, Bonaventura needed a $2,000 payment approved by county commissioners.

      Peeved that Bonaventura had initiated legal action against other elected officials without their permission, commissioners refused to pay the bond.

      Commissioners also refused to pay legal costs for two lawyers Bonaventura hired in the case, prompting him to try to circumvent the commission by deputizing the two lawyers and paying them as staff.

      The county again rejected Bonaventura’s attempt to pay the attorneys and refused to release the needed funds. Bonaventura eventually succeeded in paying the lawyers by setting up a separate bank account using fees collected by deputies, a seemingly legal maneuver the commission has been unable to block.

      His case against the other constables awaits a ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court.

    • Carson City cameo

      The saga of troubled Assemblyman Steven Brooks took a strange turn in January when he allegedly engaged the constable’s office to provide him personal protection while he was in Carson City.

      Protection services are not part of the constable’s duties, and the office has denied it was involved with Brooks.

      Instead, Toomin said, the deputy was in Carson City to make arrangements for the upcoming legislative session.

      But during a conversation overheard through the phone by a Sun reporter whom Toomin accidentally called, Toomin, a man believed to be Bonaventura and another deputy were heard discussing a “cover story” and mentioning Brooks.

      “OK, this is your cover story,” one of the men in the room said during the call. “The only reason you are up there is to prepare for the legislative session. And I don’t even want the car mentioned.”

    • Drunken driving arrest

      From the moment he was released from jail after a February drunken driving arrest, Bonaventura claimed he was innocent.

      He was vindicated a few weeks later when the district attorney decided not to press charges when breath tests conducted at the Clark County Detention Center showed Bonaventura under the legal limit after his arrest.

      But Bonaventura’s behavior during the arrest raised questions and brought more bad publicity as commissioners drafted an ordinance to abolish his office.

      Bonaventura claims he was followed by Nevada Highway Patrol officers and targeted by county officials, who have denied the allegations.

      Bonaventura failed two of three field sobriety tests and blew over the legal limit on a preliminary breath test, which is inadmissible in court as evidence. The arresting officer reported feeling intimidated by Bonaventura, who didn’t immediately pull over and turned on his emergency lights when the officer initiated the traffic stop.

    • Run-in, arrest, lawsuit

      The most recent complaint against Bonaventura’s office came in the form of a February lawsuit filed by a woman who said she was arrested at work by constable’s deputies after a run-in with Bonaventura.

      Teresa Johnson alleges negligence, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress in the suit against Bonaventura and the constable’s office filed in Clark County District Court.

      The suit stems from a September 2011 incident in which Johnson was going to visit her estranged husband, who was living with Bonaventura at the time.

      Johnson, who has known Bonaventura for more than a decade, said she and her son pulled into the driveway of the home where her husband was staying. No one was outside, the lawsuit says, and Johnson’s son yelled something before the two left.

      As they were leaving, Johnson alleges Bonaventura began following them in a constable’s vehicle with his emergency lights on but stopped after she called 911, according to court documents.

      Bonaventura said he followed Johnson and her son because they were throwing eggs at the home and vehicles parked out front, which Johnson denies, according to the lawsuit.

      A few days after the initial run-in, constable’s deputies arrested Johnson at work for reckless driving and evading a police officer.

      Charges were filed but were dismissed when no one from the constable’s office appeared to testify at her November 2012 trial, according to court documents.

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    1. Obviously Mr. Bonaventura has skirted the law and used it against good people. He seems to be misusing public money entrusted to him. I hope the County Commission abolishes the office today and calls in the FBI to investigate the both Bonaventura and the office of the Constable for any infractions of the law.