John Conforte says his life hasn’t been the same since he was beaten and stunned with a stun gun by Family Court marshals while handcuffed nearly six years ago.
“This completely ruined my life,” the 46-year-old California businessman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday. “I’ve had everything taken away.”
That includes his homes, his tool and supply business, his credit and worst of all to him custody of his 8-year-old son, who was 3 when he witnessed marshals hauling away his father in handcuffs.
Conforte last month alleged in court papers that suspended Family Court Marshal Steve Rushfield was among the group of marshals who beat him Feb. 19, 2008, in a private hallway near a holding cell area.
Rushfield, who was a sergeant at the time, is now the central figure in an FBI investigation into excessive force and possible cover-ups at Family Court. He was suspended Dec. 18 amid an internal court investigation into unrelated alleged misconduct.
Federal authorities took an interest in Conforte’s allegations Wednesday.
Prosecutors, including a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, and a Las Vegas FBI agent involved in the investigation interviewed him for about 30 minutes in the presence of his lawyer, Chris Rasmussen.
Amid the publicity over Family Court misconduct, Conforte stepped forward last month in a bid to overturn his gross misdemeanor conviction for battery on an officer and a lesser conviction for resisting an officer during his courthouse confrontation with marshals. He was accused of kicking a marshal during the scuffle.
Conforte had struck a plea deal in 2009 to avoid prison time and was sentenced to 18 months of probation. The marshals contended that Conforte was verbally abusive and combative when they first approached him.
On Wednesday, Conforte acknowledged that he wasn’t happy with the marshals at the time because he was concerned that he might lose custody of his son.
“I had words with them, but there was nothing that should have led to the beating they gave me,” he said.
Conforte insisted that he did not resist the officers. Two Family Court security videos Rasmussen filed in court this week tend to support Conforte’s claim that he was not combative with the marshals.
One clip shows a handcuffed Conforte calmly being led by Rushfield and other marshals past a crowded clerk’s office to the private hallway. Conforte did not appear to be resisting.
The other clip shows Rushfield and others opening the door at the other end of the hallway, picking Conforte up from the floor and walking him through a nearby door to the holding cell area.
The security video does not show what happened to Conforte in the hallway, which was a “camera dead spot,” according to Rasmussen.
Conforte said his confrontation with the marshals occurred on a day that he had gone to Family Court to pick up paperwork for a restraining order against his girlfriend, who was the mother of his son. She coincidentally showed up about the same time, and the two had a brief discussion.The woman left, and shortly afterwards the marshals appeared with “guns blazing,” Conforte said.
“She was trying to get my son away from me that day, and I believe she lied to the marshals and said I pushed her,” Conforte said.
When the marshals got him inside the private hallway, Conforte said, they picked him up over their heads and slammed him head-first to the cement floor. They stood on his arms and legs and beat him for nearly three minutes before dragging him out of the hallway, still handcuffed, only to resume the beating in the nearby holding cell area, he said.
“I was literally screaming for my life,” Conforte said. “They were not just trying to punch me in the mouth or hurt me. They were trying to kill me.”
Eventually, Conforte said, the marshals called an ambulance, and he was treated at a hospital for a concussion and two broken wrists.
FBI agents are known to be focusing on at least two other cases tied to Rushfield. He has been accused of choking Crystal Williams, 27, on May 20, 2010, while she was confined to a restraining chair in a holding cell.
Marshals have told the Review-Journal that Rushfield tried to cover up that incident and another involving former Marshal Ron Fox, who is accused of groping Monica Contreras, 28. She was in Family Court on Aug. 8, 2011, for a divorce-related hearing. On a courtroom security video, Contreras is heard complaining to a hearing master that Fox had groped her in a witness room under the guise of searching for drugs. She was ignored and arrested for complaining.