Ex-North Las Vegas corrections officer gets probation in excessive force case

There are better ways to kick off a new job as an armed security officer than to be sentenced in federal court in an excessive force case.

Former North Las Vegas Corrections Officer Stuart Barlow Johnson was sentenced to one year of probation Monday as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors stemming from his 2008 confrontation with a handcuffed inmate.

Then Johnson, 47, headed off to his new job working security at The Mob Museum downtown.

That was made possible after U.S. District Judge James Mahan sidestepped normal sentencing guidelines and allowed Johnson to carry a gun while on probation. His lawyer Thomas Pitaro made the request above the objections of federal prosecutors.

Johnson, a firearms expert who also is advising the Panamanian National Police, asked Mahan to “go easy” on him so that he could put the old jailhouse altercation behind him and move forward with his life.

“I was dealing with an unruly inmate,” Johnson said. “I didn’t mean to harm him. It just happened.”

Mahan agreed, saying Johnson didn’t appear to have a history of abusing people.

Johnson pleaded guilty on the day of his trial in December to a federal misdemeanor charge of deprivation of rights under color of law to avoid possible prison time on felony charges.

The case focused on Johnson’s Nov. 29, 2008, altercation with Doyle Hedger, a federal inmate at the now-closed North Las Vegas Detention Center.

Hedger filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2010 alleging Johnson body-slammed him to the concrete floor while he was handcuffed, causing serious head lacerations.

At the time of the confrontation, Hedger was in federal custody after his arrest on charges of violating the terms of supervised release on a felony firearms conviction.

The North Las Vegas Detention Center had a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service to house prisoners facing federal charges. It shut its doors in July 2012 in a city cost-cutting move.

Several months after filing his lawsuit, Hedger agreed to settle his claims with North Las Vegas for just under $50,000. Hedger, who has multiple felony convictions, is serving time on drug charges in the Nevada prison system.

The FBI, U.S. attorney’s office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington later launched the criminal investigation and indicted Johnson on the excessive force charge.

Johnson also was charged with falsifying an official incident report of the altercation by “omitting that he forcibly threw (Hedger) to the floor.”

That charge was dropped as part of Johnson’s plea agreement.

Johnson and his lawyers contended he conducted himself in a lawful manner in dealing with an agitated inmate who was not complying with an order.

The North Las Vegas Police Department fired Johnson in March 2009. More than a year later, an arbitrator overturned the dismissal, and in September 2010 a district judge denied the city’s bid to vacate the arbitrator’s decision.

Johnson was reinstated in 2010 but laid off when the detention center closed.

The North Las Vegas city attorney’s office criticized the Justice Department investigation in court papers seeking to quash grand jury subpoenas for internal police department documents.