Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2015

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Law enforcement:

Video of Las Vegas constables draws ire of county officials

Reality TV, Las Vegas constables

People might think of constables as affable public employees whose job mainly is to serve civil documents — such as subpoenas, property liens, court summonses and wage garnishments — and enforce evictions. They’re recognized by state law as “peace officers,” and they carry guns and Tasers, but they rarely take people to jail — and deputy constables get paid based on the number of papers they serve.

The job is more sad than exciting, especially as evictions become commonplace during the economic hell Las Vegas is slogging its way through.

A video producer thought there was enough drama and action with the job to produce a TV series test pilot featuring interviews and ride-along scenes with deputy constables in the Las Vegas Township Constable’s Office, one of a handful in the Las Vegas Valley. It had the look and feel of a home-produced reality TV show.

Constable John Bonaventura posted the video on his personal Web page.

And some of the content is alarming state and county elected officials who have stumbled upon it.

The video, titled “Dec. 15, 2011, Test Pilot Reel for National Reality Show,” opens with a clip from an August report from CBS News about the jobs of Las Vegas Township constables at a time when foreclosures and job losses are epidemic. After the stage is set, the real TV video gives way to the locally produced story, beginning with Lou Toomin, the constable’s public information officer.

“I’m kind of a rabble-rouser,” says Toomin, who carries a gun but whose main job is dealing with the media. “I don’t conform to the spit-and-polish (expletive), the Marine Corps crap. It’s way beyond me. It’s nitpicking (expletive).”

Toomin, who sports a graying ponytail in the video, goes on to describe vehicle stops as “probably the most dangerous thing a cop does.”

Indeed, constables can make traffic stops and can arrest people. As peace officers, state laws grant them the same rights and privileges as Metro Police, Toomin says.

The video shows a deputy constable stopping a motorist for not having his vehicle registered in Nevada. The angry driver is handcuffed and arrested.

Later, the video shows Sgt. Patrick Geary talking about evictions as “not all hugs and kisses; you’ve got to get into people’s (expletive) sometimes.”

“I wait all day long for someone to (expletive) with me,” he says.

The video veers into Geary yelling three times into his cell phone at a property manager: “Do not yell at my employee!”

There’s more, including a scene in which a deputy constable talks about how, after failing three times to serve a document to the owner of a shoe store in Circus Circus, she returned several more times because she liked shopping at the store so much.

After viewing the video, state Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she is considering drafting legislation to rein in some of the activities and practices of the constables. She was particularly disturbed by the deputy constable making a traffic stop and arrest.

“It appears they are going above and beyond what the state expects of them,” Kirkpatrick said, calling what she watched “an embarrassment.”

“I want to clarify what they are doing, what they can do,” she said.

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who also has viewed the video, said state law “definitely needs to change.” To address the office locally, he added an item to next week’s commission meeting, asking for a report on the constable’s office.

“It’s the cursing, it’s the arrest, it’s the way the office is portrayed,” Sisolak said. “It looks unprofessional.”

He said he was also troubled by deputy constables pulling over motorists.

Bonaventura is unapologetic about his employees’ conduct — and suggested that if the county launched an investigation into his office, it could open a “can of worms” involving a possible violation of state law on the part of the county relating to its handling his office’s finances.

He bristled at the notion of an elected official “even asking for a report” on another elected official.

“It’s one thing if you’re investigating a county agency like Parks and Rec, but for him to ask for this seems a bit out of his scope of duty,” Bonaventura said.

Of the video, Bonaventura told the Sun the driver shown being arrested had three outstanding warrants.

Bonaventura said deputy constables make an arrest once a month but that before he took over after last fall’s election, the office was arresting 50 people a week for outstanding warrants. His office no longer has a warrants detail, he said.

During a ride-along Wednesday, Geary explained the scene in the video in which he’s yelling into the phone. He said he was yelling at a property manager who, he said, had called one of the clerical staff in the constable’s office and “chewed her out,” leaving her in tears.

Toomin said he never expected the video to be shared with the general public. When he received it a few weeks ago, he took it as “tongue-in-cheek” from the show’s producer because it includes some cursing.

Bonaventura added that “none of us are in favor of the show. It’s going nowhere. We aren’t doing it.”

“That’s why we didn’t run it by the county people, because we didn’t have plans to go forward with it in the first place,” he said.

But the video is out of the bag, and there’s talk in the halls of the county government center about putting the constable’s office under closer scrutiny.

Sisolak said he has several questions about its operation, including the making of traffic stops.

Toomin said the stops are to enforce the state’s Fair Share program. Under that program, people who migrate to Nevada but fail to register their vehicles can be fined up to $1,200, and the public is invited to tattle on violators. The constable’s office gets $100 for each violator it turns in to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Bonaventura said no one had contacted him as of Thursday afternoon to appear at next week’s commission meeting.

“Frankly, it’s none of their business,” he said of the threatened scrutiny. “I’m the elected official running this office. I’d be happy to give them a crash course or point them to the law because everything we do is pretty much cut and dried from (Nevada Revised Statutes).”

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