Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Discussing topics that ranged from police use of force to gun registration laws, candidates vying for Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s seat squared off Saturday during a debate organized by the Libertarian Party of Nevada.
Moderated by Richard Mack — a former Arizona sheriff who won a U.S. Supreme Court case over federal gun laws — the hourlong discussion was the first debate held in the race to fill an elected position widely regarded as the second-most influential in the state, behind the governor’s.
With Gillespie not seeking re-election in November, the open sheriff's seat has attracted at least seven candidates seeking the post.
Four of those candidates gathered Saturday evening at El Cortez downtown and took their places behind a podium in front of an audience of about 50 people.
Before the questions began, Mack introduced the participants: Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody, former Detective Gordon Martines, former Las Vegas Township Constable Robert "Bobby G" Gronauer and Metro Police Capt. Larry Burns.
Notably missing was Metro Police Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who has amassed far more campaign money than any others in the race: $505,000, according to disclosures released last month.
Questions posed by Mack, who ran as a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona in 2006, focused on themes of individual liberty.
Below are some of those questions and the candidates’ responses:
Mack: When government becomes venal and oppressive and out of control, can the people of Clark County count on you for peace, safety and protection?
Martines: It’s real easy to stand up here and say all the things that you’re going to do. But I’m telling you — I am a candidate that has already done it. I have filed a federal lawsuit in January 2011 for a First Amendment civil rights violation against the LVMPD, the sheriff and 14 of his high-ranking police officials. For all purposes, I’ve already done it. I approved it. Actions and means. That shows it. If you want a constitutional sheriff, you’re looking at him right here — Gordon Martines. It’s been that way since Day One. I want to get rid of the gun registration state law, and I will. It is unconstitutional and anything that’s unconstitutional, I will fight tooth and nail using any and all resources in this county as your sheriff to fight it and stop it. My neighbors, my friends and my family are not going to get carted off to some federal institution because of some pretend legislation. Over my dead body.
Mack: Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over with the same result. If that doesn’t apply to law enforcement’s efforts in the drug war, I don’t know what does. I want to know what you will do differently.
Burns: This is one of those things I’ve got deep feelings about. When you want to be a police officer, the last thing I would hope that you ever imagine is that you’re going to use significant force, certainly legal force, on any human being. If we were to go back in the history of Metro and take a look at those that we’ve used lethal force against, you’re going to find that some had access to a narcotic somewhere. In fact, that was the case some years ago when I was a young squad operator facing an Army Vietnam vet special forces guy who lost his legs, according to his children. He became a meth cook, and shot at two of my partners and attempted to shoot me as close as I am to (Gronauer). Fortunately, I shot first at that moment and saved my own life, but took his own life in the process. I’ve often wondered about that: What that was all about, did it really make a big difference in the scheme of things? The most incredible thing that you can do is take a human life. And to do that then you have to hope that you ask yourself if you’ve made a difference that night in what it is that you did. I’m going to answer with this: The other day, the sheriff … funded this “Weed and Seed” program (which is aimed at “weeding” out drugs and “seeding” drug abuse education). The problem is, it’s been all weed and no seed, meaning that it has been enforcement, but we have not done the education component. We’ve got to do more education. That’s where our focus needs to be; that’s where our resources need to be.
Mack: Is forcing a law-abiding citizen to register their firearm unconstitutional, and will you take action to abolish the handgun registration process?
Gronauer: Gun registration is just BS. It just shouldn’t be — there should be no need for gun registration. I’ve spent so many years on the street,and people will come up with the school shootings, Sandy Hook, all the tragedies that happened with guns. Much of the guns were registered. They were registered to somebody; they just got in the wrong hands. Gun registration should never be there. The manpower and the money that’s used to do this could be used somewhere else. It’s just that simple. I won’t say the first month I’m there it’ll be gone, but I’m totally against gun registration. I’ve carried a gun since I was 18 years old. I have to register; it’s the law at this point. But there’s a lot that I don’t agree with. But I believe …my firearms don’t have to be registered.
Mack: Whether we like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, what I’ve seen and heard across the country … (is a reputation) Clark County and Las Vegas Metro have for corruption. What steps will you take specifically to restore the public’s confidence in the police in Clark County?
Moody: When you say corruption, a lot of different things come into people’s minds. At the top of the list is police use of deadly force. Every citizen in Clark County can easily relate to that. Now, we’ve got great people here — let’s make no mistake about that. And in the vast majority of cases, when our officers use deadly force, their actions are above reproach, even commendable. But the only way for us to reassure the people of Clark County, the only way for us to protect good cops from attacks and accusations when on occasion they have to use deadly force legitimately, is to have a process in place for the review of those incidents that’s credible, stable, impartial, unbiased, free from political interference of any kind. Anything short of that will continue to drive this controversy and will force the people of Clark County to turn to some outside enforcement mechanism in order to make sure Metro’s doing everything we can to reduce police use of deadly force.