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September 3, 2015

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Complaints allege sexual harassment in Las Vegas Township Constable’s Office

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Christopher DeVargas

A Constable’s vehicle is parked outside a house in the Vegas valley. The occupants repeatedly failed to pay rent and have now been evicted by the Las Vegas Township Constable’s Office, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011.

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John Bonaventura, shown in 2004 as a candidate for the Clark County Commission.

Sun coverage

A discrimination complaint alleges Las Vegas Township Constable John Bonaventura regularly harassed female employees shortly after taking office in January 2011.

In March of that year, the complaint says, Bonaventura went so far as to talk about his excitement over the “hard body” of Kristy Henderson, Bonaventura’s only female deputy.

It’s one of many instances of alleged sexual harassment in Henderson’s July 16 complaint to the Clark County Office of Diversity. After she did not immediately hear back from that office, she said, she also filed a complaint July 27 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Henderson was fired July 13. She said she was told her “services were no longer needed,” but she believes her firing was retaliatory.

Another former Constable’s Office employee told the Sun that Bonaventura’s “harassing” comments to Henderson were well known throughout the office.

“Once he got to the office, those things started happening,” said Jenny Lawson. “He would even tell me that I was wearing a ‘very sexy dress.’ Him and all of his crew are just a bunch of pigs. ... He thinks he is above everybody and there is no oversight.”

Stories of Henderson’s sexual harassment are so well known, employees from Constable’s Offices elsewhere in Clark County told the Sun they had even seen and/or witnessed it happening.

“They say some of the rudest things to their (female) clerks,” one employee, who did not want to be identified, said. “A lot of sexual connotations. No doubt it is a hostile work environment.”

The Sun left several requests for interviews Friday with Bonaventura and his spokesman, Lou Toomin.

Henderson’s 14-page complaint contains several handwritten pages of allegations indicating a pattern of sexual harassment beginning shortly after Bonaventura took office in January 2011. For instance, Henderson alleged, the constable asked her in February 2011 to wear a “mini-skirt and garter” to work instead of a deputy’s uniform.

In an April 2011 incident, Henderson said Bonaventura tried to hug and fondle her before she told him, “Stop. Don’t.”

On June 10, 2011, Henderson said she saw Bonaventura walking around with his pants zipper open. Henderson said another female employee reported it was something Bonaventura did regularity.

In November 2011, the complaint says, Henderson, Bonaventura and Toomin were together when Bonaventura made an inappropriate comment about Henderson. Toomin interjected: “John, you can’t say that. That’s sexual harassment.”

There are many more allegations in the complaint, and Henderson said another female in the office filed a complaint against Bonaventura with the county’s Office of Diversity about a year ago. The Sun could not reach that woman for comment. An Office of Diversity employee said complaints are considered private and never discussed with the media.

A question of jurisdiction lingers over the complaints. Clark County might not be able to do anything with the July 16 complaint, sources said, because it might not have jurisdiction.

Constables in Nevada are responsible for serving legal documents and evicting people, among other duties. The state sets fees for those services, and the constable is an elected official. The county approves the hiring of clerical staff but does not pay for them; the office is funded entirely through collected fees.

State Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, has said she would introduce a bill in the 2013 legislative session to limit the power of constables in Nevada.

Bonaventura drew Kirkpatrick’s attention earlier this year when the Sun uncovered a YouTube video that was labeled as footage for a possible reality TV show. The video shows one of the constable’s deputies erroneously referring to himself as a police officer, another deputy arresting someone, and footage of staff and deputies cursing.

County commissioners at the time blasted the video as unprofessional.

Reality TV, Las Vegas constables

The constable sent his staff to answer questions from county commissioners in January. They denied anyone was trying to create a reality TV show and told commissioners they were not moving forward with anything of the sort.

Friday, however, the Sun reported that Clark County staff saw a video crew with a deputy in July. Henderson said supervisors in the office asked numerous times for her to write a bio so writers could develop her character for a show.

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who has been a strong critic of the constable, said a Constable’s Office spokesman told him Friday that a video crew was taping a documentary for college students but not a reality TV show.

When told about Henderson’s complaint, Sisolak said, “It’s obvious (the Constable’s Office) needs more transparency and accountability in its operations and conduct. Those employees deserve the same protections all other employees deserve. These are serious allegations.”

Henderson was in the original YouTube video that drew Sisolak’s ire in January. Henderson wore bright red lipstick and talked in a native Brooklyn-esque accent. She now believes she was fired, in part, because she made it clear to her supervisors that she would have no part of a reality TV show.

She also believes her termination is related to her standing up for her boyfriend, Deputy Ray Jacoby, who was suspended for five days in early June.

Henderson said she argued with supervisors that the suspension was done without following state statutes, which outline a specific disciplinary process for peace officers. Jacoby has since hired an attorney and is seeking back pay, deletion of the suspension from his record and legal fees.

A few days after that argument, Henderson said, she was told her “services were no longer needed.”

“No explanation was given other than that,” she told the Sun.

Henderson is convinced, though, her termination has to do with Jacoby because of comments she alleges Bonaventura made in June 2012. Those comments, outlined in her complaint, happened when she was in Bonaventura’s office, with two other employees, discussing Jacoby’s suspension.

Henderson wrote: “Bonaventura said, ‘You know we love you, Kristy, just not Ray.’ And Lou Toomin said, ‘John, don’t lie to her. We won’t love you again until you dump Ray.’ Then (another employee) said, “Don’t worry Kristy, nothing will happen to you guys. The office needs to have its female (me), its Jew (Ray) and its black (another employee was named).”

Complaints filed with the EEOC typically end up in the Nevada Equal Rights Division. A spokeswoman in that office said sexual harassment complaints are one of several types of complaints the office receives. If a complaint is reviewed and actions alleged found to be discriminatory, the ensuing process to resolve the matter can end in a few months or last up to two years.

First, the two sides are asked to voluntarily come to agreement with help of a mediator. If that doesn’t work, an investigator will look into the case to seek findings of fact. Those findings can then be appealed to the commission board, appointed by the governor, to hear arguments in the case and make a ruling.

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