Las Vegas Sun

November 29, 2015

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Brooks drama escalates as lawmakers begin tackling governor’s budget

Updated Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 | 4:07 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Booking photo of Assemblyman Steven Brooks of North Las Vegas.

Read the police report

The Nevada Legislature turned into bizarre drama on Wednesday, with Assemblyman Steven Brooks trying to sneak in and out of the building — wearing a hooded sweatshirt and hobbling with a cane — and apparently engaging the protection of the Las Vegas Constable’s office.

The sideshow with Brooks, who is accused of threatening fellow Democrat Assembly Speaker-elect Marilyn Kirkpatrick, played out on the first floor of the Legislative Building while legislators upstairs began the serious work of reviewing Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $6.7 billion budget.

Brooks was arrested this weekend on a charge of threatening a public official. Authorities said they found a loaded Smith & Wesson handgun and 41 rounds of ammunition in the vehicle he was driving at the time of the arrest.

He came into the Legislative Building about 11 a.m. Wednesday walking with a cane and wearing dark sunglasses, with a brown hoodie pulled partially over his face. The North Las Vegas Democrat was escorted by Legislative Police, who shepherded him into an office.

Brooks never attempted to go upstairs to the budget hearing he otherwise would have been a part of, where lawmakers began to stake out positions on spending and the state’s budget director presented the new “performance-based budgeting” system. Brooks is a member of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, which, along with the Senate Finance Committee, was conducting the hearing.

But instead of going over the budget, Brooks was involved in an hourlong, closed-door meeting with legislative staff. When it ended, he made a Michael Jackson-like exit from the Legislature, with police hustling him, flanked by family, to a waiting state vehicle.

He said “no comment” to reporters’ questions as he left the building. He flashed a peace sign as he got into the vehicle.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs said Brooks was planning to participate in the session. Legislative leaders, including Kirkpatrick, have been mum about any plans not to seat Brooks or to expel him from the Legislature.

Brooks also had engaged the protection of at least one member of the Las Vegas Constable’s office, according to his lawyer Mitchell Posin. Constable John Bonaventura has been at political odds with Kirkpatrick since last session when she red-lighted a bill important to Bonaventura.

Public information officer Lou Toomin flatly denied that the Las Vegas constable was in Carson City to protect Brooks.

“What we did, we sent our guy up to make arrangements up for the upcoming session,” Toomin said. “That’s why our man is up there.”

But the link between Brooks and Bonaventura so rattled members of the constable’s office that they discussed how they could explain it to the media.

Click to enlarge photo

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

Toomin was having a conversation with other members of the constable's office when, in an apparent mistake, he dialed the Sun reporter who was working on the story. During the call, Toomin spoke with an individual he referred to as "John" — presumably Bonaventura — and the unnamed constable in Carson City. The reporter overheard a 14-minute, profanity-laced conversation in which the trio discussed a “cover story” and ripped the media for “piling up as much s*** as they can on you.”

“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.”

“This conversation with Brooks, did anyone see you?” one of the men asked at a separate point in the call.

Later, Bonaventura railed against the story.

“This is f***ing bulls*** that never should have happened,” he shouted.

Asked about the “pocket-dial” to the reporter, Toomin repeated that the only reason the office had a constable in Carson City was to prepare for its lobbying efforts.

“I don’t know what that is all about,” Toomin said of the pocket-dial. “Our story is he is up there making arrangements for us when we go up and lobby the Legislature.”

However, Posin confirmed that the constable’s office offered Brooks “personal protection.”

"I haven't heard of it, either, but this is apparently something they do," Posin said. "It was offered."

Posin did not name the individual from the constable’s office who offered the protection.

Combs also confirmed the account, saying a deputy constable approached legislative police Wednesday morning.

"There was a deputy constable that showed up here, said he had basically some direction from the constable down there, from Bonaventura, that he was supposed to provide some type of protection to Mr. Brooks," Combs said. "Our police said this is our jurisdiction. Once we told him that, we never heard from them again."

Adding further drama to the situation, Kirkpatrck is sponsoring legislation that would eliminate the Las Vegas Township Constable, but keep the satellite offices in smaller Clark County towns. Bonaventura’s office has been the subject of controversy, including a profanity-filled pilot for a proposed reality television show and allegations of sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, on the fourth floor of the Legislature, Sandoval’s top staff was presenting their budget plans to members of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance, ahead of the Feb. 4 official start of the Legislature.

With Legislative Police posted at the door, budget director Jeff Mohlenkamp went through the basics of Nevada’s economy — a slow but solid economic recovery that faces challenges.

“We see this recovery has good legs, but major challenges remain,” he said, pointing to the state’s troubled housing sector.

He also presented a new performance-based budgeting process that the state will begin to use.

The budget is probably the most important job of the Legislature, which meets for 120 days every two years. It sets the spending levels for education, health care for the poor and needy, and public safety.

Lawmakers began framing the debate. One rural lawmaker said cuts at rural colleges would be too high under Sandoval’s budget. A Democrat highlighted that Sandoval’s proposed payroll tax cut would also benefit the state’s largest businesses, not just the small employers that the administration highlights.

Brooks never made it to the hearing, which would have put him on the same dais as Kirkpatrick, who he threatened to “do in,” according to police reports.

Combs said Brooks never requested access to the hearing room and legislative police didn’t deny him access. But Brooks kept to the closed conference room during the hour he spent in the building.

Combs said Brooks needed to sign some paperwork for housing for the upcoming session.

"We are working with him to get those (living) arrangements made," Combs said. "Once those arrangements are made he plans to go back to Las Vegas. He is not feeling well. He is sick. I'm not aware of what his medical conditions are, he just isn't feeling well and isn't able to participate in the pre-session hearings."

Guy Rocha, a state historian and former Nevada archivist, described the situation as unprecedented for Nevada. Questions remained about whether Brooks would resign, if his colleagues would allow him to be seated and whether they would try to expel him, as allowed by the state’s Constitution.

“It has become a significant distraction,” Rocha said. “People were looking to gear up for the session. They want to get things done. Now this is swirling around them.”

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