Sunday, April 25, 2010 | 2 a.m.
- Bisch to take another shot (7-7-2009)
- Issues out the window as race gets testy (3-30-2007)
- Former sheriff candidate Bisch sets sights on LV Ward 1 (12-12-2006)
Sheriff candidate and Metro Police officer Laurie Bisch came close to being fired last year.
All because of a dog bite and her desire to get help for the bitten girl, she claims.
Bisch says she was targeted with an Internal Affairs investigation into the incident because she had the audacity to run for sheriff in 2006, when she lost to Sheriff Doug Gillespie, and is doing so again this year. Gillespie is seeking re-election.
Over two days of hearings last week, Bisch tried to prove that Metro officials worked in collusion with her union, the Police Protective Association, to bring her down.
Her unfair labor practice claim was heard Tuesday and Wednesday in a tiny Employee-Management Relations Board hearing room on East Sahara Avenue.
During testimony, the board heard a Metro sergeant testify he was so troubled by the department’s handling of the Bisch case he later sought counseling. They heard another sergeant describe the case as a “tower caper” — a matter of interest to top brass — and expressed shock that the department’s internal probe of Bisch had been leaked.
They were also read testimony from others, including Assistant Sheriff Ray Flynn, who was quoted as saying the case was a matter of interest at the highest levels of Metro because Bisch “had the potential to run for sheriff again.”
“Obviously, this was on my radar,” Flynn was quoted as saying.
And they heard the executive director of the police union, Chris Collins, acknowledge that amid the probe, he had said he “wouldn’t piss on (Bisch) if she was on fire.”
Bisch acknowledged she has no evidence that Gillespie did anything improper related to her case.
She is asking the EMRB to rule that the union did not fairly represent her. She is also asking that records of misconduct related to the case be removed from her Metro file and wants reimbursement of legal costs.
The outcome of the hearing won’t be known for months. The board will study the testimony before announcing a decision. Still, the hearing offered a rare glimpse beyond the thin blue line, into the internal politics and operations of Metro.
The case began in August 2008, when a 17-year-old friend of Bisch’s daughter, Lindsey, was staying at the officer’s downtown Las Vegas home.
During the visit, Bisch’s dog Fellow bit the teen. The wound needed stitches.
Laurie Bisch, who was off-duty, at home and out of uniform, said she tried to call the teen’s mother but was unable to reach her.
Lindsey Bisch, then 18, feared her friend would be unable to get immediate care without parental consent and offered to let the girl use her name. That way, the friend would appear to be 18 and could get treatment without her mother’s approval.
Once at the medical facility, Laurie Bisch filled out paperwork stating the 17-year-old friend was Lindsey Bisch. The girl was stitched up and Laurie Bisch paid the medical expenses — $565 for the doctor’s care and $49 for antibiotics.
She did not file a health insurance claim.
Months passed before the dog bite reached Metro’s radar. Eventually, the friend’s mom filed a complaint with Metro’s Office of Internal Affairs, claiming Bisch used Metro health insurance to pay for her daughter’s treatment.
The charge is a serious one: Insurance fraud and/or identity theft is a felony. An officer found guilty of a felony can be fired. Internal Affairs launched an investigation in late 2008.
By January 2009, Bisch was scheduled for an interview with Internal Affairs detectives. It was at this point that her conflict with the union began.
Bisch said she wanted a union representative in the interview, in addition to her friend and attorney, John Moran Jr.
Collins, head of the police union, testified that he told Bisch she could either have Moran or a union representative present, not both. Union bylaws state that if a member brings outside counsel, the union won’t provide an attorney, he said, adding that the union has followed the policy in other cases.
Last week, Bisch’s attorney, Adam Levine, argued state statute, which trumps union bylaws, gives officers the right to two representatives of their choosing during an investigation.
At the time though, the difference of opinion grew heated. When Collins saw Moran walk into the Internal Affairs office with Bisch, he and Moran exchanged harsh words and Collins left.
Collins testified he had a “gut feeling” that Moran had ulterior motives. Collins believed Bisch wanted to sue the Police Protective Association, with Moran’s assistance, as payback for the union passing her over for a 2006 endorsement.
Still upset about the exchange later that day, Collins said during or just before a Police Protective Association board meeting that he “wouldn’t piss on (Bisch) if she was on fire.”
Collins acknowledged last week that he called Flynn, the assistant sheriff who oversees Internal Affairs, one or two weeks before Bisch’s Internal Affairs interview. During that talk, Flynn told Collins the case didn’t warrant her termination, maybe not even a suspension.
Bisch said Collins never passed that information along to her.
As the Internal Affairs investigation continued, the Bisch case cropped up during a meeting of the Metro Employees Health and Welfare Trust, which oversees the department’s health insurance.
During the December 2008 trust meeting, Tom Reid — the police union’s assistant executive director and a member of the trust board — made a motion to seek a refund for treatment of the dog bite and to file a police report claiming Bisch had committed fraud.
Paul Page, also a trustee, testified that Reid made the motion without evidence or documentation that an insurance claim had been filed. Page abstained from voting, saying he believed the trust wouldn’t be reimbursed if criminal charges were filed.
Reid asked Page: “How could you abstain from voting? Don’t you realize (Bisch) has other political aspirations?”
Months later, according to minutes from the trust’s February 2009 meeting, trustees were informed no insurance claim had ever been filed for the dog bite. In response, trustee Karen Keller asked whether “the crime report they had requested was ever filed on something that didn’t occur.”
It never was.
Bisch says if it weren’t for Metro Sgt. Ken Romane, she would no longer be a police officer.
A 16-year department veteran, Romane was assigned to review Internal Affairs’ investigation of Bisch and, if he agreed with the probe, sign off on its finding that she had committed identity theft.
Romane knew nothing of the case beforehand. He testified last week that after reading the file and speaking with Bisch, he didn’t think the charge matched the facts.
He went to Internal Affairs to get more details, but still didn’t see she had committed a crime.
“I didn’t understand how they were getting (to) this (law), which we know as the ‘impersonating a person’ statute. Everything in there that I had gone over indicated that Laurie hadn’t impersonated anybody,” Romane testified. “It was the (17-year-old) girl impersonating Lindsey. And (Bisch) wasn’t getting anything for free. The bill was paid. I just didn’t see how ... the elements met” the charge.
Romane took his concerns to the detective on the case, Jarrod Grimmett.
Grimmett testified that he had launched his investigation by calling the Health and Welfare Trust to see whether Bisch had sought reimbursement from her insurance. During his conversation with the trust’s attorney, Grimmett was “caught off guard” because the attorney knew about the case.
The confidentiality of Internal Affairs investigations is almost sacrosanct within the department.
Grimmett then spoke with Metro’s in-house attorney and an attorney for the Nevada Medical Board about the case. Neither could see Bisch had committed a crime, he said.
A Clark County deputy district attorney, however, told him that the facts met the parameters of identity theft. During cross-examination last week, Grimmett said he never asked the county attorney to put the opinion in writing despite its potential to end Bisch’s police career.
Still, Romane was baffled by that conclusion.
“ ‘How is it that you guys are getting this?’ ” Romane recalled asking Grimmett.
He testified that Grimmett threw up his hands and said, “ ‘Dude, I’m telling you right now, this is a tower caper.’ ”
Asked to define a tower caper, Grimmett said it is a high-priority case for upper Metro administrators for various reasons — the potential to cast the department in a bad light or lead to someone being fired.
(Metro’s attorney read an affidavit from Gillespie in which he swore he had never ordered anything improper be done related to the Bisch case.)
After Romane heard “tower caper,” he left Internal Affairs feeling “sick to (his) stomach.”
He called Metro’s Labor Relations office and repeated his argument that no crime had been committed, that the case merely warranted a superior talking to Bisch, a meeting known as a “contact.”
“You can’t give her a contact,” Romane recalled being told. “It’s a felony, she has to be terminated.”
Still, Romane was persuasive enough that Labor Relations revisited the case and modified the charges. Instead of a felony, Bisch was charged with a misdemeanor — violating a city ordinance that requires the reporting of dog bites to the Health Department; and conspiring to be untruthful.
Instead of being fired, Bisch would get a written reprimand. Eventually, the dog bite misdemeanor was dropped. All that remained was conspiring to be untruthful. After the changes were modified, the documents came back to Romane. This time he was asked to approve a written reprimand of Bisch for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”
Romane still maintained that Bisch had done nothing wrong. He said he fought it for about two months. Then signed off on it.
“All I could do was say, I was done with it,” he said. “I fought for what I thought was right.”
Romane testified that e-mails in which he discussed the matter with superiors, and had purposely saved, disappeared from his computer. “I can’t say what happened to them, but I can say they were no longer there,” he said.
When Metro’s attorney Nick Crosby cross-examined Romane, he noted that Metro had not been the first to raise allegations against Bisch, it had been the 17-year-old’s mother.
Crosby emphasized that no felony allegation was upheld against Bisch, proving, in his view, that Metro’s system of checks and balances had worked.
“The department listened to you,” Crosby told Romane.