Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012 | 3:17 p.m.
Former Deputy Constable Ray Jacoby is suing Las Vegas Township Constable John Bonaventura and Clark County, claiming his free speech and due-process rights were violated when he was suspended without a hearing for on-duty profanity, then fired after he filed a complaint.
Filed in Clark County District Court today, the lawsuit names Bonaventura, Deputy Constable Hadi Sadjadi and Clark County as defendants.
Though the Constable’s Office operates nearly autonomously and is funded through the fees it collects, attorney C. Ben Scroggins says Clark County is included because the constable “was acting under the color of law and as an agent, servant and/or employee of” the county.
Jacoby is seeking at least $30,000 in damages, plus immediate reinstatement of his job, which he lost Aug. 15.
The suit brings seven causes for action. It claims the constable violated Jacoby’s 14th Amendment right to due process when he was suspended for five days in June without a hearing.
It also claims Jacoby’s free speech rights were violated when Bonaventura fired him earlier this month, a move the suit calls “retaliatory termination.” It also says Jacoby was fired because he hired an attorney to challenge the suspension and filed a religious discrimination complaint with the Nevada Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Representatives of the constable have said they won’t discuss personnel matters in the media. An attorney who previously represented Bonaventura could not be immediately reached for comment.
Scroggins said the constable fired Jacoby earlier this month because in May Jacoby ran a “warrant check” through a database after a citizen asked Jacoby to see if he had any outstanding warrants in his background.
Scroggins wrote that the “misconduct” was “pre-textual and was discovered only after the constable and/or his employees scoured their records searching for a facially neutral reason to terminate Mr. Jacoby.”
The suit says Jacoby suffered emotional distress and was subject to “negligent supervision, that the constable breached his contract with Jacoby, and breached a “covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”
Aside from monetary damages, the suit asks for an injunction on the constable’s actions, meaning Jacoby wants his job reinstated immediately.
The lawsuit refers to a Las Vegas Sun story about another complaint filed by former Deputy Constable Kristy Henderson. Henderson, Jacoby’s girlfriend, was fired in July. She made several claims of being sexually harassed by Bonaventura. Henderson also claims she was fired in retaliation because she accused Bonaventura of not following state law by suspending Jacoby without following certain procedures.
One of Henderson’s allegations is that, while in Bonaventura’s office in June with two other employees, they discussed Jacoby’s suspension. Jacoby used Henderson’s recollection of that conversation in alleging he suffered religious discrimination.
This is Henderson’s recollection of the discussion:
“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).”
Commissioners earlier this week voted unanimously not to let Bonaventura take $2,000 from his enterprise fund to pay $2,000 to an insurance company that had put up a $100,000 surety bond on Bonaventura’s behalf. The bond was needed because Bonaventura sued and won a temporary injunction against neighboring constables, preventing them from establishing offices in the Las Vegas Township jurisdiction.
Commissioners rejected his claim, however, because he did not seek permission before filing a lawsuit.
On Thursday, Commissioner Steve Sisolak groaned when he heard about the county being named as a defendant, which means it, too, could be made to pay up should Jacoby prevail in court.
“It’s hard for me to understand how he’s claiming we’re controlling the Constable’s Office when Bonaventura all along says he can do whatever he wants,” Sisolak said. “I’m not saying he’s right or wrong, but which is it? I’m very confused with this issue.”
Sisolak went on to say that Bonaventura has more than one outside attorney representing him – two appeared on his behalf Tuesday at the County Commission meeting. But if Bonaventura is a county employee, Sisolak asked, why isn’t he using attorneys from the District Attorney’s Office?
“We need to get to the bottom of this entire deal here in terms of who’s responsible and who’s liable,” Sisolak added.
Some county sources say they hope the matter is sorted out during the 2013 session of the Nevada Legislature. Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she would introduce legislation to clarify the role of constables.