Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Despite promising county officials not to do a reality TV show based on his office — after the Sun last year discovered embarrassing reality TV-like footage of his staff on YouTube — Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura appears to be doing just the opposite.
Sources from his office say Bonaventura in recent weeks has allowed a film crew from California to tape his staff on the job. In addition, Clark County’s animal control staff reported a video crew filming Deputy Constable Patrick Geary at a July 18 eviction. Animal control was there because cats were left in the residence.
Bonaventura did not return a call for comment Thursday afternoon. A state lawmaker, however, said she would push for tighter controls on constables or to eliminate their autonomy altogether.
“They are funded through enterprise money,” said Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas. Enterprise-funded agencies get their money through fees. “That probably needs to go away,” she said.
Filming a reality TV show would fly in the face of what Bonaventura’s staff told the County Commission. At a January commission meeting, a member of Bonaventura’s executive staff, Jason Watkins, told commissioners that the Constable’s Office was finished with reality television.
“We are not moving forward with any reality TV show,” Watkins said. He further said the uncovered YouTube video was some kind of “training video” of how not to act on the job. Geary was in that earlier video, too.
But staffers from the Constable’s Office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the office was about to allow or had allowed a California-based crew to film employees on the job.
The Sun also obtained recordings from a former employee who secretly recorded office conversations before being fired a few weeks ago. In one recording, the employee is talking to the office’s public information officer, Lou Toomin, who denies the office is doing a reality TV show. However, Toomin adds, any talk about such matters “is a secret … after the exposure we got from (the YouTube video).” He later adds, “It’s not back out in the open again.”
The recordings also contain comments from Deputy Chief Dean Lauer, who asks for “a few paragraphs” from the same employee. He wants the employee’s background information written down.
“I’m not so interesting,” the employee replies.
“Yes you are,” Lauer answers.
Toomin also says on the recording that he doesn’t know why people want the employee’s “bio.”
In another recording, a different office employee says the bio is needed because writers “want to develop” the employee’s character.
Told about the potential of a Constable’s Office reality TV show, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak expressed dismay.
“I took them at their word,” Sisolak said Thursday, adding that months ago he met with Bonaventura one-on-one and was assured the office’s issues were a thing of the past. “Obviously, I was mistaken to take them at their word.”
Since that January commission meeting, two former Constable’s Office employees have sued Bonaventura after being fired. The two, Dan Palazzo and Tim Beckett, claim they were dismissed because they refused to lie to county commissioners.
The YouTube video drew criticism because of the language used and how the Constable’s Office staffers carried themselves.
The video no longer is available online, but an edited version can be found on Clark County’s website, which contains archived video of the Jan. 3, 2012, commission meeting during which the video was broadcast.
Toomin is featured in the video, calling himself “kind of a rabble-rouser.”
“I don’t conform to the spit-and-polish (expletive), the Marine Corps crap,” he adds. “It’s way beyond me. It’s nitpicking (expletive).”
The video also shows a deputy constable stopping a motorist without vehicle registration, then handcuffing and arresting the man.
Later in the video, Geary talks 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.
After the January meeting, during which Bonaventura originally wanted permission to hire two more clerical workers, county commissioners sought ways to oversee the Constable’s Office. They’ve since found, Sisolak said, that isn’t easily accomplished.
The constable is an elected position, and the office staff is funded through fees the office collects for the services it performs, such as evictions and serving court papers. The state only sets the fee schedules. Although the office needs Clark County approval to hire clerical workers, the county has virtually no control over the Constable’s Office or its deputies.
Unlike Metro Police, which is overseen by a Fiscal Affairs Committee consisting of local politicians, the Constable’s Office controls its budget on its own.
Kirkpatrick said one of the areas she was looking at was limiting the scope of what the Constable’s Office can do. She doesn’t like the fact that deputies are pulling people over and giving them traffic tickets. She said parents of out-of-state students are complaining about tickets that constables are giving their sons and daughters for not having their vehicles registered in Nevada.
“We have to lay down some parameters,” she said. “We need to clarify their role.”