Shortly after he was elected, Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura asked a female deputy to wear a miniskirt and garters to work, and to perform a sex act, according to the latest round of allegations to hit his office.
In court papers the former deputy alleges she was pressured to dump her boyfriend and was fired after refusing to appear in a reality TV show centered on the office.
These and other accusations are contained in a lawsuit filed against the constable by former Deputy Kristy Henderson on May 24.
Her lawsuit is just the latest criticism of the constable’s office to enter the court system, and it follows high-profile incidents that include hiring deputies with questionable backgrounds, a profanity-laced venture into reality television and a deputy who failed to notice a body in a residence.
Clark County commissioners voted in March to abolish the office, which serves legal paperwork, handles evictions and picks up abandoned vehicles. Under state law, the office won’t go away until Bonaventura’s four-year term ends in January 2015. He was first elected in 2010.
In the meantime, the lawsuits are mounting. The civil complaints filed by former deputies contain a bit of everything, including allegations of sexual harassment and lies, as well as clashes with an insurance company.
HENDERSON AND JACOBY
Henderson alleges that Bonaventura told her the office wouldn’t love her again until she “dumped Ray.”
Ray Jacoby, another fired deputy, has filed a separate wrongful termination lawsuit. He and Henderson later married.
Henderson also alleges that in July, office spokesman Lou Toomin made her write a biography for use in relation to the reality show or lose her job. She said she was fired later that month after telling Toomin and Bonaventura she wouldn’t participate.
Henderson contends her firing came because she was associated with Jacoby, spoke up to the constable on his behalf and questioned the legal grounds for a suspension he received in June 2012.
In a statement, Bonaventura said Thursday he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment. He did, however, call the relationship between Jacoby and Henderson an “ongoing office affair.”
That is not the case, said attorney C. Benjamin Scroggins, who represents the couple. “There was no ‘office affair,’ as the two worked different hours, comported themselves professionally in the office and never hid the fact that they were dating,” Scroggins said.
ALLEGATIONS OF LIES
Henderson’s lawsuit is the latest with roots in the attempt to turn constables’ office work into a reality TV show.
The effort blew up in December 2011, when county commissioners became aware of videos of deputy constables using foul language and engaging in unprofessional conduct. They asked Bonaventura to come to a commission meeting and explain.
According to court papers filed in March 2012, two former high-ranking officers in the constable’s office allege that Bonaventura told them to go to the meeting and lie on his behalf.
Daniel Palazzo, a captain, and Timothy Beckett, a lieutenant, allege that Bonaventura wanted them to tell commissioners he was ill and couldn’t be there.
In court filings, the pair said they refused to lie and reminded their boss that they had counseled against getting involved in reality TV when a producer approached the office.
Bonaventura turned to four other employees, who went to the commission meeting without him.
Soon afterward, Palazzo was stripped of administrative duties and reassigned, with his salary dropping from $103,000 annually, to $15,600 plus commissions. Beckett was demoted to field sergeant, with his salary dropping from $72,000 to $5,200 plus commissions. By the end of January 2012, the two were fired.
The former deputies contend they were fired because they were unwilling to lie about two things: Bonaventura’s purported illness and a claim that the reality show pilot was a training video.
Things went better for staffers who went to the meeting. Bonaventura made Jason Watkins the chief operations officer and director of information technology. Ryan Clark, a deputy, was promoted to lieutenant, bypassing the typical time as sergeant. Bryan Cornell was promoted three ranks, from deputy to captain.
INSURER GETS BOOTED
The lawsuit by Palazzo and Beckett has taken another twist that puts the constable at odds with his own insurance provider, Travelers Property Casualty Company of America.
The insurance provider agreed to settle the case for the amount the pair demanded: $160,050 for Palazzo and $114,950 for Beckett, according to a Nov. 6 letter from the provider to Bonaventura.
But Bonaventura didn’t want to give in to other demands, which included an agreement that his office would purge negative information from their employment files and issue a letter attesting to their honesty and professionalism.
He told the insurance company he was withdrawing the claim and no longer needed its services.
According to the company’s letter, Bonaventura said the claims lacked merit and paying them would encourage more lawsuits. He also believed the settlement would bankroll a campaign for one or both plaintiffs to run against him .
In its letter seeking a resolution, the provider urged Bonaventura to settle, saying, “It would be in the best interest of you and the Constable’s office for the suit to be resolved.”
Bonaventura rejected that advice. In response, the company has filed a civil complaint seeking a judge’s declaration that it is no longer responsible for the case. That declaration, like the lawsuit, is pending.
Contact reporter Ben Botkin at email@example.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.