Sheriff calls Nye County assessor's comments 'blatantly racist'

An elected Nye County official faces accusations of racism after questioning whether construction workers building a new jail in Pahrump are legally eligible to work in the United States.

In an e-mail sent Friday to Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo, tax assessor Shirley Matson asked if the county had verified the workers' citizenship, noting they looked Latino.

"That's what we call racial profiling," said DeMeo, who said he has no legal reason to investigate the workers' status.

"My staff, me, taxpayers coming to our offices, other town and county employees can plainly see that the construction workers are all Mexican/Latino, non-English speaking and I'm getting complaints," wrote Matson, who moved to Pahrump from San Diego in 2007 and was elected county assessor in November.

She has described herself as a conservative Republican.

Matson said she was concerned for the safety of her staff, though she acknowledged there have not been any incidents to support that concern.

"You don't have to be an American citizen to work in America," DeMeo wrote in response to Matson on Monday.

On Wednesday the sheriff said Matson's comments were "blatantly racist" and were intended to "inspire hatred and divide communities."

The Pahrump Valley Times, a twice-weekly paper owned by Stephens Media, the same company that owns the Review-Journal, demanded Matson "resign immediately" in a front-page editorial published Wednesday.

"You are neither fit for office nor a trustworthy servant of the public good," the editorial said of Matson.

Matson called the editorial and stories in the Pahrump newspaper a "hit piece" orchestrated by DeMeo. She said the sheriff has a vendetta against her over past skirmishes in the immigration debate.

The sheriff, she said, favors designating Pahrump a sanctuary city where local officials refuse to assist in enforcement of immigration laws.

"That would be untrue," said DeMeo, who acknowledged there is bad blood between him and Matson over an unrelated incident dating back several months, but he said the pair has never discussed illegal immigration.

"I'm not in favor of making Pahrump a sanctuary city," he said. "I'm in favor of supporting the Constitution. People (like Matson) want to wrap themselves in the flag but they don't think the law should apply to anyone but them."

Contact Doug McMurdo at or 702-224-5512.