Training halted at police academy tied to Las Vegas constable

The law enforcement academy that began with Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura’s blessing is no longer certified, putting a class of 13 cadets in the middle of training in jeopardy.

Bonaventura ended his office’s role in the certification on Aug. 7, two days after the resignation of Jason Watkins, his former deputy chief operating officer who also has run the academy. In his resignation letter, Watkins cited the office’s “drama and constant cannibalism” as the reasons for his departure.

A spokesman for the constable called Watkins “a liar.”

The office has seen its share of controversy. Clark County commissioners in March abolished the constable’s office, which will cease to exist in January 2015, when Bonaventura’s term expires. The dustup is another in various conflicts involving the office since Bonaventura’s 2010 election. Other instances include a deputy missing a body in a residence, lawsuits from former staffers and allegations of sexual harassment. This situation impacts the future of cadets with hopes of training for a law enforcement career.

The constable’s office didn’t give a reason for ending its certification when it notified the Nevada Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, said Tim Bunting, deputy director of the state’s POST agency.

Bunting said the constable’s office went through the right channels to withdraw.

“It is unusual that they shut down an academy in the middle of an academy,” Bunting said.

Cadets in limbo

Without certification, the training is halted for the cadets, who had started the 21-week program on June 30.

The academy is a separate entity from the constable’s office. Its cadets pay $4,500 tuition to the academy. After completion and POST certification, they can apply for law enforcement jobs.

Watkins said he’s working on lining up another law enforcement agency so the academy can regain the certification. He declined to identify an agency, with talks ongoing.

“If I don’t find another sponsor, they’re kind of in limbo,” Watkins said. “That’s my biggest concern.”

He said if the academy grew, its revenues and his income also would grow. He estimated his monthly income from the academy at about $1,000.

The academy started in 2012, and has graduated about 40 cadets.

Bonaventura said his office is working on a plan to help the cadets finish training. The details aren’t finalized.

“One of my main concerns right now is to help the cadets out,” Bonaventura said. “I feel really bad for what has happened to them but my hands were tied. I had to do what I had to do.”

Resignation details

Watkins’ resignation came in early August.

“While my reasons are too many to articulate by this written notice, I shall sum it up to say that the drama and constant cannibalism within your office has my stress levels through the roof,” Watkins wrote in his Aug. 5 resignation letter. Among Watkins’ stated issues: An officer had filed a false report about him, and Lou Toomin, another staffer, was “constantly running his mouth” about Watkins.

“Toomin, the material cause for the Las Vegas Constable’s Office abolishment really needs to learn to keep his opinions to himself,” Watkins wrote.

Toomin, a spokesman for the constable, disputed Watkins’ account.

“He’s just full of shit,” Toomin said. “You can quote me on that.”

Toomin added: “It’s not true. What he’s saying is a lie — period. Jason Watkins is a liar. He has been from Day One. He resigned. I don’t know what else to add.”

Watkins said the office’s conflicts have more to do with several staffers than Bonaventura.

“I think it should be salvaged,” he said of the office. “I think if some people went away and were fired, then the commissioners might even reconsider their vote. I’ve said that time and time again.”

Questions remain

Questions persist about the office and academy.

On June 4, Bonaventura emailed Watkins, requesting the academy’s financial statements and invoice records. In the email, he noted it was his third time asking, and warned that the office could withdraw its involvement. Watkins said the request came from Bonaventura via James Kimsey. Kimsey is a consultant who works for Robert Pool, Bonaventura’s attorney.

Kimsey was pressuring Watkins for information, saying it was needed so the academy could gain a sponsor through the College of Southern Nevada, Watkins said, also calling the request unnecessary.

“He was getting the request in to get the information from James Kimsey, who was working for him and I wasn’t going to share it with him,” Watkins said.

Bonaventura disputes that. He said he requested that information because a cadet who withdrew complained about not getting a refund.

That incident raised a flag of concern, he said.

“I need to know that everything’s filed and everything’s proper,” Bonaventura said.

Watkins denies that there was a dispute about a refund.

Questions abound about an audit that the Department of Public Safety is completing on the constable’s office concerning its use of the system used to check individuals’ criminal history.

Watkins didn’t appear worried about the audit, calling it a “non-issue.” He said he talked to an auditor and explained he had run a name through without including the court docket information, which is required.

Gail Powell, a spokeswoman for the state agency, confirmed that there is an audit. The constable’s office will have 30 days to respond, she said. She was unable to provide any details about the audit.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781.